Drunken Dog-days Chicken

22 Aug

In Korea, there’s a dish that’s traditionally eaten during the three hottest “dog days” of summer.  It’s called samgyetang (삼계탕), which translates literally to ‘ginseng chicken soup’.  Lots of people swear by it, and I’ve eaten it and cooked it a few times, but never was quite sold on the taste.  However, when I found a recipe for a delicious garlic chicken stove-top dish (from SmittenKitchen), looked at the miserable, hot, rainy weather outside my window, and thought about it for a moment, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Ginseng, the crucial ingredient of samgyetang, is widely regarded in Asia as very beneficial to health and stimulating to energy.  It’s believed that consuming it during the hottest days, when you’re sweating constantly, helps replenish nutrients and keep you on your feet.  Chicken soup, of course, is renowned world-wide for its illness-battling power.  This is a great meal whether you’re in the mood for a rich broth or just a big piece of tender chicken, layered with subtle flavor.  I find that ginger lends a cooling effect to summer meals and a warming effect to winter foods, somehow, and if you’re coming down with a cold, the spices pack enough punch to cut through congestion and the blahs and stimulate your appetite.

Ingredients:

1 small chicken (2-3 lbs), cut into 6-8 pieces
1/4 cup butter
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
40 cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium white onion, sliced
2-3 knobs ginger, peeled and sliced
1 medium-size root of white ginseng, trimmed and sliced
5-10 dried jujubes (a Chinese variety of date)
1 handful pine nuts
1 handful slivered almonds
2 cups sliced mushrooms (of your choice)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
green onion, sliced, for garnish

Start off by cutting your chicken into pieces.  I won’t lie, I looked up a video tutorial on how to do this effectively, then promptly vowed to buy a better, sharper knife as I sawed at skin.  I split mine into legs (with thighs and drumsticks together), wings, and breasts, and stuck the back/neck in the freezer for use in something else, mostly because I dislike picking tiny bones out of soup on any occasion.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until it’s bubbling a bit, then place the chicken in the pot, skin-side down.  I had a small chicken and a big pot, so it all fit in one layer.  Let it cook there for about 5 minutes, until the skin is a nice toasty golden-brown, then grab your tongs and flip those pieces over to do the same on the other side.

Meanwhile, slice your onions, peel and slice your ginger, count out your peeled garlic, and wash the ginseng root.  Strip the long tendrils off the ginseng and slice the fat central root into little coins.

When the chicken is golden on both sides, pile it to one side and add the garlic, onion, ginger, ginseng, pine nuts, and almonds to the pot.  Rearrange the chicken pieces to allow the garlic and onion to comprise the first layer, where they can cook in the oil at the bottom, and turn the heat down to low.  Stir or shake the pot regularly, cooking about 15 minutes or until the garlic is soft and the onions have begun to caramelize. This will give the ginger and ginseng plenty of time to infuse the oils with flavor and permeate the dish.  The nuts give it a little more texture, which I like.

Add the mushrooms, stir again, and let it all simmer for a couple of minutes. Then, add the white wine and chicken broth, toss the jujubes in, and cover.  Make sure it’s on low heat.  At this stage, samgyetang would be simmered until the meat is literally falling off the bones, but since you started off by frying the chicken on both sides, there’s no need to wait for 40 minutes.  Unless you want to.  Give it time to come back to a simmer, and cook until a fork to the thickest piece of chicken runs clear juices.

That’s it! All done.  If you want chicken, nab some chicken and garlic out of the pot, snip a bit of green onion on top, and dig in.  If you’d rather have soup, leave the chicken for another day and ladle yourself out the broth.  When the chicken is gone, you could easily cook some noodles in the broth for another meal.  If you aren’t me and devouring the soft garlic isn’t right up your alley, I suggest smearing it over some thick whole-grain bread, or mashing it into potatoes.  It will literally melt in your mouth.

I’ve been informed in the past that you aren’t actually meant to eat the jujubes out of the soup, they’re just in for a mild flavor to the broth.  This is fine, as I don’t particularly care for the taste of dates in general, or the texture of jujubes in particular.  However, if you want to be experimental, try using a small turkey instead of chicken, and using a handful or two of dried cranberries in the broth instead.  Let me know how it works, if you do! Different nuts are easily substituted or added–the traditional route would be chestnuts, but play around with what you like.

Serves 3??
Let’s just say I have a pot of soup I’m going to be eating for a week, unless I convince some friends to come try it and drink up what’s left of the wine!

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One Response to “Drunken Dog-days Chicken”

  1. Quinn August 23, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    Wonderful variety so far. Looking forward to more recipes.

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