The many personalities of a summertime chicken

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The many personalities of a summertime chicken

I have a girlfriend who insists that she once saw a fat, white hen flash beams from its eyes one night at her grandmother’s house. Ever since, she hasn’t been able to get over her fear of chickens. She thinks chickens are the creatures that look the most threatening at night ― even scarier than bears.
In Korean films, chickens can have a variety of meanings. Sometimes they are metaphors for death and the supernatural, suggesting an ill fate. Other times, they are a means of celebrating life, since chicken dishes were traditionally served when important guests came to a house.
In the Korean countryside, chickens were often purchased live at the market, brought home and killed in the backyard. Maybe because of that, there is something very earthy about chickens as used in Korean food, especially when it comes to baeksuk, or steamed spring chicken.
In one of my favorite scenes from the film “The Way Home,” the spoiled city boy Sang-woo, who has been packed off to stay with his mute grandmother in a poor, rural village, asks her to get him some Kentucky Fried Chicken. When she doesn’t understand what he’s saying, Sang-woo imitates a chicken flapping its wings.
The next day, the old lady cooks a batch of baeksuk for his grandson. The boy gets angry and stages a hunger protest, but that night, he crawls out of bed and devours the whole plate on the spot. Then he goes back to sleep in peace. This is depicted as the start of the boy’s reconciliation with his grandmother and the new environment in which he’s been placed.
In the film “Green Fish,” Tae-gon, a gangster chief (played by Mun Seong-geun), and his mistress visit a baeksuk restaurant owned by the family of a man he’d had killed. The camera captures the couple in the backyard running after the chicken they are about to eat, stretching the metaphor of killer and victim. In “Youngmae,” a documentary about Korean shamans, the audience sees a female shaman twist the neck of a chicken during an exorcism.
Despite all the bird flu news we were overwhelmed with not so long ago, we Koreans still enjoy our chicken. According to a recent poll, the price of chicken in local supermarkets doubles during the summertime.
Why not? After all, it’s “stamina food,” a cliche to which poor, middle-aged Korean ajeossi just can’t help but pay attention.
If, like me, you were always warned to think twice about eating bird stuffing, baeksuk would be a good choice. Chicken baeksuk is a bold, country-style meal, steamed in a large pot with chunks of potatoes, ginseng and, sometimes, whole green onions.
There is no nasty stuffing involved (though recipes in some regions do call for stuffing ingredients into the belly), no sweet rice or tiny grains floating around the soup ― just a plain old chicken, with chunks of fresh vegetables.
Baeksuk has managed to maintain its character all these years. While restaurants specializing in samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) are sprouting up in university areas and in downtown Seoul, targeting tourists and young Koreans, one has to really look for places that offer chicken baeksuk. Indeed, its rarity is partly what makes this dish so special. Most restaurants that do serve baeksuk are located near mountains or on the outskirts of Seoul. If you are a hiker, look for a sign for baeksuk near a bus stop.

How to Cook

Chicken Baeksuk

Ingredients: 1 chicken, 1 onion, 2 sheets of dried seaweed (dasima), 1 ginseng root, 5 ginkgo nuts, 4 pine nuts, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 ginger roots, 2 cups of water, 5 jujubes. Sauce: 4 teaspoons of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of rice wine, 2 teaspoons of honey. Serves 3 or 4.
1. Cut the fat off the chicken and wash it thoroughly.
2. Wash the ginseng and put it aside.
3. Boil the ginkgo nuts in salty water. After a few minutes, put them on a strainer and let them cool. Peel the skin off.
4. Chop the onion into chunks, and spread them at the bottom of a large pot along with the dried seaweed. Place the chicken on top.
5. Add the water and bring to a boil. Add the garlic, the ginger, the ginseng and the sauce ingredients. Cover.
6. When the chicken becomes tender, add the honey, ginkgo nuts and jujubes and serve.

Provided by, Delicook

by Park Soo-mee
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