Samgyetang (삼계탕)

Samgyetang (Korean Chicken Soup)

The weather in New York is finally starting to warm up and what better way to celebrate the warmer weather than to make Samgyetang. In Korea, it’s believed that the nutrients from the whole chicken, ginseng, garlic, chestnuts and jujubes will protect you from illness and give you strength during the hot summer months. It might be counterintuitive to some, but as someone who loves sweating over a steamy bowl of ramen in the middle of summer, I get the appeal.

In Korea it’s made with young chickens, but I’ve found that cornish game hens work perfectly and makes a serving big enough for one very hungry person. Aside from the chicken, rice and ginseng, I’ve seen many variations of Samgyetang, including one very memorable one I had in the mountains of Gangwon-do that included pine mushrooms. In my version, I’ve opted for a fairly standard spread, including pine nuts, chestnuts, garlic, ginseng and jujubes all held together by sticky rice. By cooking the stuffing in the bird, it takes on all the flavors of the soup, but the ingredients also imparts their pungent, herbal, sweet, and nutty flavors back into the chicken.

Ginseng and Jujubes for Samgyetang

You’re probably already familar with most of the ingredients in Samgyetang, but ginseng and jujubes may be new to you if you don’t cook Asian food much. Ginseng is a gnarly root that’s widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. In the US it can be found in herbal teas and has a potent bittersweet flavor. If you can find it fresh, that’s the way to go, but you should also be able to find them dried at Chinese herbal stores. Jujubes are sometimes called red dates because they look a bit like dates and have a caramel-like flavor very similar to dates. They’re nothing special on their own, but after cooking inside the chicken, the flesh becomes soft and provides a wonderful sweet surprise that counterbalances the savory chicken.

Ingredients for Samgyetang

Most recipes call for using water when making Samgyetang, but I like using stock because it makes the soup more intense and gives the broth a rich creamy taste. I usually use the leftover bones from a roast chicken, or I go and buy chicken bones to make the stock, and I also like adding a 2″ x 5″ piece of dashi konbu (kelp) to the stock to give it a little extra umph.

Samgyetang is normally under-salted and served with a side of scallions and sea salt so the diner can season the soup to suit their tastes. As you pick the chicken off the bones, you can also dip the chicken directly in the salt. Since there’s rice already in the chicken, get out a bowl of kimchi and you’re set.

Samgyetang (삼계탕)

serves 2 hungry people

1/2 cup sticky rice (also known as “sweet rice” or “glutinous rice”)
2 cornish game hens
2 tablespoons kosher salt (halve if using regular salt)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
3 small fresh ginseng roots (dried works okay too)
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
10 jujubees
4 whole chestnuts
4 cups low sodium chicken stock (preferably home made)
1 scallion thinly sliced
sea salt for serving

The morning you want to make the Samgyetang, wash the rice and soak it in a bowl full of cold water. Rub each hen with a tablespoon of kosher salt, both inside and out.

Cornish Hen Stuffed to make Samgyetang

When you’re ready to start cooking, drain the rice and mix it with the pine nuts. Add a ginseng root, garlic clove, jujube, and chestnut into the cavity of each hen, then split the rice between the two hens. Add another garlic clove, jujube, and chestnut to each chicken, then cut a small slit into the flap of skin just above each drumstick and thread the end of each drumstick through both flaps as shown in the photo below. You could also use a toothpick to “stitch” the opening shut, you just want to keep the opening closed so the stuffing doesn’t all fall out.

Hen sealed up to make Samgyetang

Add the chicken stock and remaining ginseng root, garlic, and jujubees to a pot that’s just big enough to hold both hens. Bring to a boil, then carefully add both hens. Return the soup to a boil then cover and turn the heat down to low and simmer for one hour.

Serve the Samgyetang in a small pot or stone bowl along with the soup, then garnish with the scallions. Give each person a small plate of salt that can be added to the soup to taste, or be used to dip the chicken meat into.

  • the indolent cook

    Chicken soup for the soul!  And the photos are gorgeous as always – the one with the ingredients against the dark background is particularly dramatic!

  • Claudine Co

    This looks great! I’ve never cooked with ginseng or jubesjubes before – nice to be able to try out new ingredients. (btw – I’ve been following your beautiful site for a bit, first time commenter.)

    • Claudine Co

      Sorry – forgot to ask – can one find jujubes from Chinese herbal stores as well? I’m from San Francisco and have access to a nice variety of Asian markets… but wondering whether I should go to the herbalist first…

      • Marc Matsumoto

        Hi, thanks for your comment! Yep, you can get jujubes at almost any
        Chinese or Korean grocery, and they should also have them in bulk at
        Chinese herbal stores.

  • Donna Young

    Oh this looks SO good, perfect for these rainy, cool days we are having in NYC! I can’t wait to try! Going to add some dried black mushrooms to it.

  • Seoulinthecity

    Amazing you made this! One Of my favorites. If you come back to Seoul I’ll have to take you to tosokchon- one of the best, oldest samgaetang spots!

  • nhyn

    This post brought a smile to my face :) One time I went to a restaurant in ktown, and asked for samgyetang even though it wasn’t listed on the menu. And guess what – they had it! It’s almost as if it was one of those things Koreans assume you should have ingredients for/be able to cook anytime in the kitchen; except ginseng is not that readily available here. I’m gonna have to make a trip to Hmart this weekend and make samgyetang now 😀 

  • pekopeko

    Making samgyetang from scratch. You are one rad foodie dude! Making it with a cornish hen is a clever idea. My favorite thing about the samgyetang that we get in Japan is that you can eat the bones too! That ought to be a heck of a lot of nutrients. Next time you come to Kyoto, lets make some.

  • Oak

     I am very happy to know that we have this kind of website.
    I hope this helps our Korean 2nd generation as well as people who are interested in Korean foods.

  • Anonymous

     awesome post! i love sam gye tang. i did try making it once and made the mistake of overstuffing it :)  oops!

  • Chung-Ah @ Damn Delicious

    This is a really hard dish to nail!! I would never attempt to make this since I can never make it the same as my mother’s. It looks great though. Well done!

  • Eftychia

    Yummy!! It sound really tasty!

  • rita

    i remember the very first time i encountered a ginseng root was when i was a little girl – we had a layover at the gimpo airport – and there it was. right smack-dabbed at the center of the airport was this huge ginseng plant with roots and all. it scared the beejeezus out of me that’s for sure. ahahahaha!

    i just hope i can find some ginseng root here in germany that will not cost me an arm and a leg and a pint of blood. one thing i miss living in the States, are the availability of ingredients and food. by the way, any suggestions on substituting chestnuts and pine nuts? i’m allergic to all tree nuts and peanuts.

  • Jonny

    looks awesome. really good. i feel stupid now for not recognizing the sweetish red berries in our banchan at seoul garden last week. we were sitting there saying to each other how great they were and that they were probably goji berries or something among the wilted parsley.  we should visit here more often for some education it seems.

  • Swee San

    Oh yum I just came back from Korea and had the Samgyetang from Tosokchon near gyeongbukgong palace. it was oh so yum!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      I love how creamy their soup is! It reminds me of tonkotsu ramen.

  • Pingback: Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken) « A Feather is Magic()

  • TinTin

    Thanks for sharing this recipe~ I can’t wait to try it out. <3

  • Maya

    This is my favorite Korean dish! Thanks for sharing:) Do you know how to make Kalbitang? Beef soup? If you know can you post as well?:)))

  • Nancy Maza

    I love looking at the food you make, it inspires me to make something beautiful and delicious!

  • Heart Mind & Seoul

    I love this dish! It reminds me of my dad.. he loves it. It’s Summer and Samgyetang is definitely in season… Yummm

  • Pingback: 삼계탕 aka Chicken Ginseng Soup | Unmasked Adventures()

  • marie

    You can easily enough make this without chicken stock by first bringing the ginseng root to a boil in a pot and simmering it for a few hours, you’ll have a strongly scented infusion, which will give a lot of dimension to the soup at the end. It also gets rid of the need to make chicken stock before. My mum does it this way and it’s amazing!

  • Ratna widya

    Im always interesting about korean food,,,,, thanks you for sharing,,,,

  • Mariagarcia

    I think this discussion took place a few years ago, but I’ve just discovered it and had to add my own story about Samgyetang. My family and I were living in Seoul in the early 1980’s (still under military dictatorship) where my husband worked at the Canadian embassy. I talk English (more cross cultural content than grammar) to a large variety of Koreans – among whom was a group of young engineers who were going off to Saudi Arabia to work. We had a lot of fun together, and at the end of the course, they took me to their favourite restauant for lunch. Needless to say, it was Samgyetang, and they had endless laughs watching me try to eat it with just metal chopsticks. Great memories!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Thanks for sharing your awesome story Maria. That’s one of my favorite things about food, the way it brings people together and the stories it creates!

  • Mariagarcia

    Correction on my just-posted text: I taught English, not I talk English


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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