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Southern Chicken and Dumplings
Chicken and Dumplings
This may be my favorite comfort food - of course I have about thirty of them on my my favorites list, but when I hear the words 'comfort food' this is the one that flashes into my head first. It's reminiscent of Sunday dinners at granny's house - really. This is the way my grandmother made them, and as much as I like to tinker and improve recipes, my sole addition to this dish over twenty years of making it has been a sprig of fresh thyme.
I also fail when I try to describe how incredible this is - rich, luscious and ambrosial, with dumplings that melt in your mouth and tender, juicy chicken...mmmmmmm. It takes a little time, sure. But the payoff is a bowl of love that feels like granny is standing beside you with a pitcher of sweet tea, asking if she can make you some cookies next.
This is also a double duty dinner believe it or not. If you make a Roast Chicken (or two like I do), you've already jump started Chicken and Dumplings for the next day. Roast off chickens for Friday or Saturday night, and give yourself a weekend afternoon to work on the dumplings. They really don't take that much time or effort - the time is for the soup to simmer while you pretend you're working really hard and watching Cougar Town.
Roasting the Chicken
For the broth:
- 1 4 lb roasting chicken or
- Leftover Roast Chicken
- 2 yellow onions
- 4 medium carrots
- 2 ribs celery
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- salt and pepper
- 1 Tbl olive oil
- If you're using leftover Roast Chicken, skip this section, and proceed to the broth. If starting fresh, place the chicken on a baking sheet.
- Preheat oven to 350F. Roughly chop one onion, two carrots and a rib of celery and toss them on the sheet with the chicken. Throw on the fresh thyme - stems and all. All you're doing here is roasting the veggies to intensify their flavor for the broth, so it doesn't matter where they go.
- Sprinkle the chicken and veggies with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven for an hour.
- The chicken won't be completely cooked through - it's ok. You're going to let the meat finish off in the broth, which will keep it moist and tender.
- Pull the chicken from the oven and set it on the counter to cool a bit. You just need it cool enough to handle.
This is the main flavor base for your entire dish - it's really easy,
but the payoff is huge. Don't use canned broth - the flavor is so
insipid in comparison it's just not even the same dish and you won't like the results. Once you've done this, you'll be amazed at not only how easy the homemade broth was to make, but how fantastic the flavor difference is. This truly is what elevates this dish to five-star status. This is a simple trick that the professional chefs use that is so simple to bring to your own kitchen - just do it.
- When the chicken has cooled enough to handle, 'pick' it completely. This just means you're pulling all the meat from the bones. Set the meat aside and refrigerate it. It probably won't be cooked completely through - that's all right. You're going to finish it in the broth later. If you used leftover Roast Chicken, discard any citrus you used to flavor the chicken. It will make the broth bitter.
- Put the chicken bones, skin and the roasted vegetables in a stock pot or Dutch oven. Add just enough cold water to barely cover the chicken. Place on the stove and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to a simmer.
- After the chicken has come to a boil, you'll see a foamy gunky stuff rise to the top. This is simply protein released from the bones and any remaining meat. Skim it off. You'll also want to skim off a good bit of the fat that will float to the top of the broth. It only takes a minute but makes a huge difference in the broth later. Don't skip this step.
- Because you've already intensified the flavor by roasting the chicken and vegetables, the broth only needs to simmer about twenty minutes. Remove it from the heat.
- Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the broth, discarding the bones and veggies. They've given you all they had - they can go in peace now. You'll be left with a richly colored, very 'chickeny' broth. That's solid gold - and may look very close to gold in color. The broth is now ready to go. Hold out about 1/2 cup of the broth, and the rest can go back in the pot.
Making the dumplings seems to be the part that throws off most people when talking about this classic. But it's not hard - they have three base ingredients. Throw together flour and fat, add a touch of liquid, and you have dumplings. That's it. See? Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
You can also tweak them all over the place. They are a great 'blank slate' for other flavors. Add a little fresh thyme, rosemary or roasted garlic. Cracked black pepper, Parmesan or cheddar cheese, a touch of fennel seed - think of them as fresh clean drawing paper and you are the artist. In this case we're going to keep it simple - there's already thyme in our broth and roasted with our chicken, so I'm keeping it at kosher salt and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. Here we go!
2 cups of all purpose flour
3/4 stick of butter, room temperature
Your reserved, cooled chicken broth
1 tsp kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
Fresh parsley for garnish
- Place your strained broth back in the pot and stick it back on the stove. Finely chop the remaining carrot, onion and celery and add them as well. Turn the heat to medium, and allow the broth to simmer while you crank out the dumplings.
- As always, you can do this by hand. I just like the mixer with the dough hook attached. Add the flour and butter to the mixing bowl, and cut it in until it's coarse. I usually do this part with my fingers - just pinch it until the butter pieces are a little smaller than fresh baby peas.
- Start the dough hook, and add the salt and pepper. Drizzle in a scant tablespoon of the chicken broth - you won't need anywhere near the whole half cup - but flour is odd - you never know exactly how much liquid it will absorb. You're looking for a nicely smooth dough. You don't want sticky - but you don't want stiff either. It should feel like a baby's bottom. So add a touch of broth a few drops at a time and continue the mixing until the dough comes together and gets smooth.
- Whatever broth is left over at this point can go into the pot with the rest.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. I usually divide the dough into two pieces - but it depends on how large the surface is with which you have to work. Do whatever you like. But roll the dough out until it's very thin, about 1/8 inch. The thicker the dumplings are the longer they'll take to cook. Too thick and the outsides will be mushy while the interior is still undercooked and doughy, so thin is worth the effort.
- Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dumplings into little squares.
- Drop the dumplings one at at time into the simmering broth. Once they are all in, stir well but gently. Allow the broth to simmer for about forty five minutes to an hour. Make sure you stir often and gently, getting all the way to the bottom of the pot. Keep it easy so you don't break up your dumplings. At the end of the forty five minutes, taste your dumplings for doneness - you want them cooked all the way through. Adjust for seasonings at this point as well - taste for salt and pepper.
- While the dumplings are cooking, they are also thickening the sauce. It should have turned a creamy pale golden. You're almost done.
- Chop the reserved chicken into small pieces, and stir it gently into the pot. Bring it back to a simmer.
- Simmer for ten minutes more and it's done! Ladle into bowls and top with just a tad of fresh parsley.
- The Thrillbilly Gourmet
Combining classic technique with everyday food for spectacular results!