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
I had to be careful. If I blew it, Suzen was not going to make this dish for me. I could not seem selfish or self-serving. That requires enormous concentration and energy. You could argue that if I just focused on being … What fun is that?
“You, uh, you do like jalapenos?” I asked her.
She put down the paper and her coffee. “What are you talking about? Are we married or not?”
“No, no,” I said. “It’s just with the acid reflux you’ve been having, I wondered if you could eat, say, a cooked jalapeno?”
“Cooking in what?” she asked. Her eyebrows were up. If our cat’s ears are up, I know that is good. If Suzen’s eyebrows are up, and her ears are twitching, that’s bad.
“Cooked in a little cheese. Sort of soothing.” I had to back her down.
“Maybe.” The eyebrows lowered. “Show me.” She extended her hand.
I passed her our new copy of The Whole Hog Cookbook by Libbie Summers. It was open to the picture of this chili with its jalapeno cheese dumplings.
She seized book, staring with the recipe but here attention immediately shifted to the picture: a steaming bowl of chili topped with dumplings. Her eyebrows descended fully. The ears were motionless. Her eyes shifted to me. “Why the hell didn’t you say so? Get your wallet. We’re going to Whole Foods.”
This book, The Whole Hog Cookbook, is brilliant, one of the best cookbooks we’ve seen in a year. Author Libbie Summers has earned her credibility with a lifetime in food. She began as girl visiting her grandparents’ hog farm in Missouri. She’s been a private chef on yachts [tough work but someone has to do it], worked for many food companies, is a food stylist master [see the pictures in this book], and is now the “driving force in kitchens of Paula Dean.”
Every time you turn the page in this book, you stop. You may want to begin cooking at once, or you may need to read to make sure you understand what the devil you are looking at:
- Sweet Potato Pork Pie
- Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Roast
- Buttery Potted Ham
- Prosciutto Pretzel Knots
- Bacon Beignets
- Rosemary Bacon Scones
This is one of those cookbooks that you’ll keep close at hand. You can cook your way through it all this fall and winter.
Besides the recipes, there well-photographed how-to sections demonstrating techniques for preparing your meat, like how to remove the membranes from pork ribs. Literally everything you need to know for creating outstanding pork dishes is all here in this craftily written work.
Oh, the dumplings? Oh, those dumplings. I love this chili, and it is a bit spicy, but the dumplings are what will bring the tears to your eyes.
Hog-Tied and Hungry Chile with Jalapeno Cheese Dumplings
Yield: 6 servings
For the chili:
- 1 pound dried black beans, rinsed and drained 1 pound ground pork
- 1 large sweet onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 (4 ½ ounce) cans chopped green chiles
- 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 cups tomato juice
- 2 cups pork stock (page 154)
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
For the dumplings:
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup masa harina
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup milk
- 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable shortening, melted
- 2 teaspoons honey
- ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
In a large stockpot, cover the beans with 3 inches cold water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, simmer for 2 hours, or until the beans are fork tender. Drain the beans and set aside.
In the same large stockpot, cook the pork until the meat is no longer pink. Stir in the onion, garlic, green chiles, chipotle, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper.
Sauté for 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, tomato juice, stock and chocolate. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings: Whisk together the all-purpose flour, masa harina, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate mixing bowl whisk together the egg, milk, lard, and honey.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in the cheese and jalapenos.
Drop heaping tablespoons of the dumping dough into the simmering chili, leaving a little space between the dumplings so they do not touch. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Do not lift the lid while the dumplings are cooking. The dumplings should be firm to the touch, still moist in the center. Serve hot.
Source: The Whole Hog Cookbook by Libbie Summers