Comfort food. We all respond when we hear this term, and we all have that short list of favorites that we can instantly taste in our brains, in not in our mouths. If you survey people, you’d be surprised how many of us overlap in those foods that always entertain and please us.
For days, I have wanted Chicken and Dumplings, a dish I had two or three times a month as a kid. Bisquick dumplings were the ones I grew up on. And I loved them. Truth is, dumplings can be a bit better. Lighter. Fluffier. Ambrosia if made perfectly.
I sought just that perfection. I spent an hour online going through twenty recipes. I had some criteria: nothing too easy, buttermilk for the dumplings, no soup mix.
At SimplyRecipes.com, I found a lovely recipe, which I want to credit for inspiration. I did change it and the recipe below reflects my inputs: differences in ingredients and some more details about how to prepare this dish.
What makes this recipe so good? The dumplings. There are big and fluffy and tender. To get a great dumpling, you have to steam the batter not cook it in the sauce. That’s exactly what I did and, as the pictures show, they are abundant in size and flavor. Using baby carrots and adding peas is a pairing that was not in my childhood version. I love the color and flavor they add.
Finally, some recipes call just stewing the chicken, and perhaps doing that in water. Here, you brown the chicken, then poach it in stock. I used homemade turkey stock to give an added tang to the dish. You can use chicken stock and even store-bought stock but homemade is superior.
Brian’s Chicken and Dumplings
Yield: serves 4
For the Chicken:
- 2 tablespoons mixed herbs, chopped: sage, thyme and rosemary, separated into two equal portions
- 2 quarts homemade turkey stock
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 to 3-½ pounds chicken thighs, skin-on, bone-in, trimmed of excess fat
- 3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into ½-inch chunks
- 2 cups baby carrots
- 1 large red onion, roughly chopped
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ red wine
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- Ground black or white pepper
For the Dumplings:
- 2 cups (250 g) cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- ¾ cup buttermilk, plus more if needed
Finely cut up the herbs and separate into two equal portions.
In an 8-quart stock pot, place the stock and bring to a simmer.
In a second 8-quart thick-bottomed pot, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Pat dry the chicken pieces. Lay them skin side down, seeking to render out the fat for use in the stew/sauce.
Cook for about 5 minutes, moving the chicken pieces around so they do not stick. Turn and cook for another 5 minutes or so until all the chicken pieces are browned on all sides. Remove the chicken from the large pot, and turn off the heat. Pull the skin and any dangling fat from the chicken pieces. Place the chicken pieces in the simmer chicken stock. Add 1 tablespoon of chopped herbs. Place a lid on the pot and let the chicken poach until thoroughly cooked, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the chicken pieces and set on a tray to cool momentarily. When the chicken pieces are cool to touch, use a knife and a fork to separate the meat from each thigh. You should get two large pieces of meat and perhaps one or two smaller one. Set the meat aside.
Do not fret about getting all the meat off the thighs. Instead, leave meat on, reserve the thigh bones, and use these pieces to make more chicken stock [refrigerate, of course, if you are not stocking until tomorrow].
Return the heat on the large pot used to brown the chicken to medium-high. When the pot is hot, add the onion, celery, carrot and thyme and sauté until soft, but not browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add the flour and stir well. The flour will absorb the fat in the pot and may stick a little to the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir the flour vegetable mixture constantly for 2-3 minutes. Do not let it burn.
Get a ladle ready and have the pot of simmering chicken stock nearby. Add the red wine to the flour vegetable mixture. Stir to mix. The pan contents may appear to be dry. Before anything can burn, add a ladle of hot chicken stock to and stir well. Add another ladle, then another, stirring all the while, until the broth comes together. Add the rest of the chicken stock, the reserved chicken meat, and second tablespoon of herbs.
Increase the heat and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer while you make the dumplings.
Make the dumpling batter by whisking together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and buttermilk to the dry ingredients. Gently mix with a wooden spoon until mixture just comes together. Don’t over mix or your dumplings will not be soft and fluffy. If necessary, add a little more buttermilk. Stir just to incorporate.
Drop dumpling batter into the simmering stew by heaping spoonfuls over the surface of the stew. Some people start with rounded teaspoons of batter, but I used the batter 2 tablespoons at a time. I want my dumplings big. My larger dumplings quadrupled in size when they cooked.
Cover and simmer until dumplings are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Once you have covered the pan. DUMPLING ALERT: do not uncover and peek while the dumplings are cooking. For the dumplings to be light and fluffy, they must steam, not boil. Uncovering the pan releases the steam. If after 15 minutes they are still not cooked through (use a toothpick or skewer to test) cover pan again, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Gently stir in the peas and, if you wish, more herbs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle portions of meat, sauce, vegetables, and dumplings into soup plates and serve. Note that the stew will continue to thicken the longer it sits.
Source: Inspired by Simply Recipes
Photo Information: Canon T2i. EFS 60 macro lens, F/2.8, 1/100th second, ISO 1000
Congratulations. You’ve just cooked a chicken. You may be carving it up, prematurely because you are eager to get to the table. What’s the next thing you do?
Clean that roasting pan while it is hot and before things begin to “clunk” on the bottom and sides?
No. Leave the pan. Using that pan, which is a treasure trove of flavors, is your first step. Your chicken should rest before you can carve it up anyway. So, put the roasting pan on your stove top. Stir the juice there with a wooden spoon. Break up the solid bits that are “flavor piles” lying there. Now, add something. Peas, beans, corn, onions or a combination of some or all. How much to add? It depends on your chicken but easily two or three cups of veggies is fine. You may want to add a little butter for flavor and additional liquid. Sprinkle the top with lemon juice. Some salt, some pepper. Stir over medium heat for 3-7 minutes until thoroughly cooked. If you wish, add some white wine or even sparkling. Keep in the pan on low heat to remain warm as you finally do carve up that chicken. Then serve as your side dish, adjusting the seasonings to your taste.
You’ve just made a one pot meal in two stages.
Now for step two. After dinner, return to that carcass. Strip it of the remaining meat. For a normal size chicken that has been carved up before to serve 2-3 people, the carcass will still have nearly a cup of scraps on it. After all, when you are carving and want to begin eating, you really have not focused on stripping off all the meat. Now you can. Except, except, you don’t want to get every last scrap of meat off. Get rid of the skin, but leave the ultimate final bits of meat on the bone. Then crush the carcass into pieces, and put the mess into a plastic bag. Put the bag in the refrigerator or refrigerator.
You’ve just made the protein component for a terrific stock. The next day, the next week, plunge those bones with vegetable scraps into cold water and heat to a simmer. Let it simmer for hours. Indulge in the fragrant scents. The resulting broth, once you have removed the chicken pieces and any veggie chunks, is perfect by itself for a simple meal. Or add noodles. Or make risotto.
The Chicken Salad
And now for step three. When you did strip off the carcass, you got some meat, perhaps up to a full cup. Place the meat into a metal bowl. Add mayonnaise, in the ratio 3 parts meat to one part mayo. [Or, if your wife is not going to eat it, make the ratio 2 to 1]. Add some lemon juice to taste, plus salt and pepper. I like to add about a quarter cup of chopped candied jalapenos for heat and sweetness. Or you can add pickle. When you were making that roast chicken and perhaps a salad, there may have been some onion pieces or herbs that were chopped up. You have to clean your kitchen up anyway. Don’t treat those goodies as trash. They are finishing components.
Mix it all up and refrigerate.
You’ve just made some wonderful chicken salad. Not the manufactured goop you find in your store. But, real home-made chicken salad. It’s ready to be scooped onto lettuce, put in a sandwich or used top off your favorite crackers.
You roasted a chicken, but then you accomplished a great deal more.
Photo credits: Canon T21 with 18-55 mm Macro lens, first shot at F/4.0, 1/60th second, ISO 400 and the second at F/5.0, 1/50th second, ISO 3200.