The second any of us got a cold, my mom would boil a Cornish game hen, stuffed to the gills with rice, garlic, ginseng, and jujubes (or Chinese red dates). It was the perfect way to cook up a single serving of chicken soup for the ailing child. Koreans eat this piping hot soup, called samgyetang, in the height of summer to stay cool, believing, as Dave Kim writes in The New York Times, "that it replenishes nutrients, improves circulation and helps balance the body’s internal and external temperatures." But we always had it in the winter, especially during flu season, and it's certainly one of the most comforting meals I turn to even when I'm not sick. I decided to swap out the ginseng and jujubes for ginger, onion, and fried shallots, as they're more readily available and what I tend have lying around myself—which is also why I'm hesitant to call this a proper samgyetang but rather a samgyetang-inspired Cornish game hen soup. Magical healing powers still included. —Eric Kim
Place the rice in a sieve and run it under the tap for a few seconds to rinse off some of the excess starch. Transfer to a small bowl and cover with water. Let soak for 10 minutes.
Then, prepare the hen: Remove the pouch from inside the chicken’s cavity. Add 4 or so garlic cloves into the cavity, and, using a spoon, add the rice as well.
Place stuffed chicken into a small pot or saucepan (it should be nice and snug). Sprinkle over the salt and pepper. Add remaining garlic cloves, ginger, and onion around the hen and fill the pot with water. (The hen doesn’t need to be completely submerged; in fact, it’s best that it’s not, so the white meat can slowly steam in the covered pot while the dark meat braises and gets effortlessly tender in its garlicky, gingery hot bath.) Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low and cook for about 1 hour, spooning over some of the broth a couple times during cooking.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, add the shallots and olive oil and bring to a gentle simmer, over low heat, and let cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots start to brown. This can take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your stove. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shallots and transfer to a paper towel to drain. Save the oil; in fact, season it now with a little salt and white pepper. This will be your dipping sauce for the chicken later.
After an hour, the chicken should be cooked through and super tender. Season soup with additional salt and pepper, as needed, and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and fried shallots. Eat straight out of its little pot with the shallot-y dipping sauce.
Eric Kim is a senior editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the managing editor at Food Network and a PhD candidate in literature at Columbia University, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.