Chicken & Dumplings
Chicken and Dumplings is just about the most delicious creation to ever come out of the deep South. Pure comfort food, of the highest order. There are as many ways to make it as there are cooks who specialize in it. After much trial and error, I have discovered the key to making good Chicken and Dumplings. It must be started the day before. This give the broth a chance to cool down so you can lift the fat off of it. The fat in the broth makes for an indigestible mess.
For the Chicken:
- 3 pounds of chicken pieces (leg quarters are fine)
For the Dumplings:
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup milk
- 2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon each salt & sugar
So start the day before. Get out a very large pot, 5 quarts or bigger. Put the chicken into the pot and pour the water over it. The chicken should be covered with water, if it isn’t add more, until it is. If you use chicken leg quarters, use about 4 of them to make three pounds. Now bring the chicken to a boil on the back of the stove. Put a lid on the pot, or a pizza pan, and reduce the heat to medium-low. It should still simmer, but sort of slow and easy like, the same way the sun sets on a hot summer day in the south, not energetically, but sort of lazy like instead. Now let the chicken simmer like that for a full two hours. Longer if the chicken was partially frozen when you put it in. You want the meat to fall off the bone. When the chicken is good and tender, remove it from the broth. Try to make sure there are no sneaky bones which have worked there way to the bottom of the broth. If you find any, just fish them out. I do this with a slotted spoon, and a fork. The chicken is hot, so be very careful not to burn yourself. Collect your chicken in a dish or bowl and let it cool down. Let the broth cool down too. Then put the whole pot of broth into the fridge overnight.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones. Discard the skin, or give it to a grateful pet lurking nearby. Toss the bones away. Put the chicken in a bread bag or quart size canning jar and keep it in the fridge until tomorrow.
The next day get the big pot out of the fridge and lift off the cake of fat which will be solidified on top. Toss it out. Now bring the broth to a boil on the stove over high heat, adding the chicken bouillon and pepper. When the broth is boiling, add the chicken meat from the fridge. Reduce the heat so that is barely simmers, in that lazy southern sunset way. Taste it carefully and add salt if you think it needs it, probably it doesn’t, but make sure first.
While the broth is starting to cook on the stove prepare your dumplings. Get out a big bowl and mix up the oil and milk. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix it up to a stiff batter, like for drop biscuits. Set it aside until you need it.
When the broth and chicken are simmering slowly, it is time to drop in the dumplings. Take small rounded scoops of the dough with teaspoon and drop them into the simmering broth, on top of the boneless chicken. Keep dropping the dough blobs until you have scraped the bowl clean. Now put the lid, or a handy pizza pan over the pot and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Do not peak. Let the dumplings simmer covered for the full 20 minutes. The thing about dumplings is that they cook partly from the boiling broth and partly from the steam. The steam is what makes the fluffy, and the simmering broth is what cooks them all the way through. So just trust me and don’t peak while the dumplings are cooking. When the time is up, serve the chicken and dumplings right away. The broth will have miraculously thickened into a rich gravy, the dumplings will be fluffy and the chicken will be a savory gift from the heavens (or the cook). I serve it in cereal bowl with instant mashed potatoes, green beans, and brownies. Orange juice is good with it too, he citrus flavor sort of feels good on your tongue in between bites of the chicken.
This recipe serves 8 folks pretty well.
It may seem like a lot of work when you read this recipe, but it really isn’t. The first day, the hardest part is taking the bones out of the chicken, and that really only takes about 15 minutes, after the meat is cooled down. And the second day, the whole process takes about 30 minutes from when you start it to when you eat it. The other charm of this dish, is that if you have little else beside chicken leg quarters (often less than 50¢ a pound), flour and a little milk, you have a dish fit for royalty. This is one of the best recipes in my whole collection.