Korean ginseng is eaten for its restorative qualities. It’s said to be good for your heart and a mild stimulant that helps to replenish qi energy and reduce stress.
Korean ginseng is generally double steamed to capture the flavor, and the resulting soup is strong in taste. My Auntie Margaret makes it plain with water, although she tells me that a 4-ounce skinless chicken breast could be added to make this tastier. Looking at Auntie Margaret at the age of eighty is enough to convince anyone to follow this regimen. She claims that drinking Korean ginseng gives her an optimistic outlook on life and gives her youthful energy.
Korean ginseng looks very different than all other ginseng—the roots resemble mahogany-colored squarish cigars. The herb is also available sliced, and Chinese herb shops will sell you as little as 1 ounce. Korean ginseng is the most expensive ginseng, costing from about $185 to more than $300 a pound. Chinese ginseng (gut lum sum) can be substituted, for it is said to have similar attributes but is considered to be inferior in quality and is, therefore, more affordable.
Korean or Chinese ginseng in not recommended in the summer, as it’s too invigorating for warm weather. Never use a metal saucepan, as that diminishes the power of the ginseng. Once the soup is ready, it should be served with a porcelain spoon to prevent one from contaminating the ginseng.
• 1 ounce Korean ginseng
• 4 cups cold water
• 1 chicken breast (about 4 ounces), optional
1. Rinse the ginseng and place it in a small nonreactive saucepan; add 2 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Slice and add the chicken, if desired. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 1 hour. Remove the ginseng, reserving the cooking liquid.
2. When cool enough to handle, cut the ginseng into 1/4-inch pieces. Place the ginseng, the reserved cooking liquid, and the remaining 2 cups of cold water in a Chinese-style tureen (or a deep heatproof bowl) and cover with an airtight lid.
3. Put about 2 inches of cold water in a pot that is large enough to fit the tureen without touching the sides of the pot. Place a cake rack on the bottom of the pot and carefully place the tureen on the rack. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Steam on medium-high heat for 4 hours. Check the water level often and replenish with boiling water, never letting the depth of the water fall below 2 inches.
4. Remove from the heat, and carefully remove the tureen from the pot. Ladle the soup with a porcelain serving spoon, and serve piping hot (no more than 1 cup per person). The ginseng can be eaten, but it will have a very powerful flavor even after four hours of cooking.
Adapted with permission from The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young (1999). Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Ingredient photographs by Alan Richardson Photography.