When Heat Knocks You Over, Just Cry 'Fowl!'

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When Heat Knocks You Over, Just Cry 'Fowl!'

Unfortunately, the real summer heat lies ahead. Tradition has it that the three hottest days in Korea - chobok, jungbok and malbok - are collectively called sambok. This year, they fall on July 16, July 26 and Aug. 15.

Beginning with the summer solstice on June 21 and especially during sambok days, Koreans rush to restaurants to eat special chicken dishes.

Served in glazed earthenware or stone bowls, the chicken and soup dishes are boiled at the table. Sweating profusely over the sizzling hot food, diners will often shout, "Iyeolchiyeol!" - which loosely means "Overcome heat by eating food that is even hotter!"

One of the most popular dishes in the height of summer is samgyetang or ginseng chicken, also eaten year-round as a food to build stamina.

Samgyetang is boiled, stuffed chicken made into a soup. Salt is served on the side, along with sliced green onion or red chili pepper sauce. The chicken stuffing is made from rice, ginseng, dates, chestnuts, ginkgo nuts and garlic.

With minimal seasoning, samgyetang is a delicious and nutritious dish favored not only by Koreans but also agreeable to non-Korean palates. Many tourist guides recommend the dish as one of the best Korean treats.

Koreans have generally regarded food as a form of medicine and eating as a way of treating ailments. All good foods are believed to have medicinal qualities that boost energy and nourish.

So eating samgyetang during the summertime not only serves to satisfy the appetite, but to replenish energy and nutrients consumed by the heat. It is a continuation of old customs that seek to restore the body's balance.

An ancient belief in the East says that the human body enjoys good health and harmony only when five elements are in balance: fire, water, earth, metal and wood. The draining of energy through excessive perspiration disrupts the balance as the body loses su (water) and therefore hwa (fire) becomes stronger. More hwa means the body retains unnecessary heat, causing heart disease and exhaustion.

The natural ingredients in samgyetang, such as ginseng, ginkgo nuts and dates, bolster gi or life force. The sticky, moist rice (chapssal) helps control the heat generated by the heart. Garlic helps regulate heart and lung function and blood circulation.

The dish is believed to be a remedy for a number of ailments including indigestion, the common cold, liver complaints and heat exhaustion.

Chicken is also a nutritious ingredient which is low in calories and high in amino acids, a kind of high-quality protein, and calcium, good for pregnancy and combating osteoporosis. Collagen found in chicken wings can help maintain youthful-looking skin.

The ginseng in the dish stimulates human metabolism by activating enzymes in the body, aiding recovery from chronic fatigue.

Ordinary samgyetang is made of white chicken meat. When making the dish, Koreans opt for a young chicken called either yeongye or younggye, as the younger ones not only yield more tender, juicier meat but are also higher in protein. They are also thought to have higher medicinal value.

For special occasions, a more exotic version of the dish is prepared from ogolgye, a dark-feathered fowl. The ogolgye is named after a crow (ogol means the crow's bone, gye means chicken) because the fowl has dark feathers, meat and bones.

In Oriental medicine, the ogolgye is considered a panacea. Because of a chicken's reportedly cure-all qualities, ginseng chicken made of the darker meat nowadays is a more expensive version of the special summer delicacy.

[ Making a Classic Dish ]

Ingredients for one serving: 1 small-size chicken or yeongye (young chicken), 1 small root of fresh ginseng, 4-5 daechu (dates), 2-3 chestnuts (peeled), 3-5 ginkgo nuts, 1 green onion, 2 cloves of garlic (peeled), 8 cups of water, 1/4 cup of chapssal (sticky rice), salt, black pepper, red chili pepper powder (optional).

1. Soak rice in water for at least 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Wash chicken thoroughly in running water and gut (unless you have bought a cleaned chicken). Mix up rice, dates, ginseng, garlic, chestnuts, ginkgo nuts and pinch of salt, and stuff into chicken's cavity.

3. Sew up chicken's cavity with thread and tie legs together so that stuffing will not spill out.

4. Put the chicken, the white section of the green onion and water in a pot. Bring to boil. When water boils, lower the heat and simmer until the chicken meat becomes tender.

5. If required, remove chicken from soup and strain soup using fine, cotton-mesh sieve. This removes some fat and impurities from soup.

6. Put chicken and soup in a ddukbaegi (earthenware bowl), dolsot (stone pot) or other flame-resistant container and bring to boil again. Serve immediately with salt and pepper and thinly sliced green onion on the side. If spicier version is desired, red chili pepper sauce (mixture of coarse red chili pepper powder and water) can be served on side.

< The Best Samgyetang Places in Seoul >

Goryeo Samgyetang 02-752-9376 Seosomun-dong

Tosokchon 02-737-7444 Hyoja-dong

Baekje Samgyetang 02-776-3267 Myeongdong

Seoul Samgyetang 02-775-4300 Bukchang-dong

Jang-an Samgyetang 02-753-5834 Taepyeong-ro

Goryeo Samgyetang 02-923-6607 Samseon-dong

Tojong Samgyetang 02-534-4630 Seocho-dong

Yeongyang Center 02-594-9292 Bangbae-dong

by Inēs Cho

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