The awful truth behind every bowl of chicken soup

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The awful truth behind every bowl of chicken soup

In last week’s column about chicken baeksuk, which included some reminiscing about chicken, there was something that I now realize I left out. I am clearing my throat as I write this, because the story I am about to tell really left some traumatic imagery on my brain.
It was about six years ago, when I was still a graduate student in Montreal, that a friend from a local Korean church invited me to join him and some male friends of his on a trip to a poultry farm. The next day, we drove to an old farm about an hour from downtown Montreal.
After a nice omelet lunch, one of the boys in the group ― I call them “boys” because, looking back, their level of intellectual maturity reminds me of the adolescents from “Lord of the Flies” ― suggested that we bring home a live chicken and make samgyetang, or ginseng chicken soup, with a freshly slaughtered bird.
The only excuse I can think of now for failing to raise an adamant objection at the time was that I didn’t have any sense of what butchering a live animal in someone’s bathtub would entail. But that’s a terrible excuse.
Anyway, I sat there watching two boys proudly smiling as they came out of the barn with a large burlap bag containing a live chicken, and we drove back to town.
It became clear that the boys weren’t skilled butchers. It took the five of them two hours to kill one hen. The process, which I would rather not describe in detail for fear of hurting any animal rights activists’ feelings, was such an absolute disgrace for all of us that we never talked about the incident after that evening, not even as a passing joke. One thing I learned from watching the scene was how fiercely living creatures can struggle when they realize it’s their last moment.
If there were such a thing as animal manslaughter, maybe I would be arrested. If I were a Buddhist, I would certainly expect to be reincarnated in my next life as a worthless reptile to pay for my sin. Then I wouldn’t be able to give any dumb excuses like this.
If that chicken is looking down on me from animal heaven, I would really like to offer my sincere apology through this column. Nevertheless, the history of samgyetang must go on. Condemn my impudent appetite, but I eat samgyetang after all these years, though I am reminded of that evening whenever I can’t get to sleep on a long summer night like this one.

How to cook


Ingredients: 2 small chickens, 4 jujubes, 4 ginger roots, 20 garlic cloves, 2 green onions, salt and pepper, 1/2 cups of sweet rice. (Serves 2.)
1. Cut openings into the chickens’ abdomens, remove the organs and wash thoroughly.
2. Wash the sweet rice and soak it in water for about an hour.
3. Stuff each chicken with half of the sweet rice, gin seng, jujubes and garlic (in that order). Sew up the opening or twist the legs to keep the stuffing in.
4. Put the chickens in a large pot and pour in enough water to cover. Boil over high heat until the meat is tender and soft.
6. Serve with diced spring green onions and a dash of salt and pepper.

From, Delicook

by Park Soo-mee
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