Chicken and Dumplings is a Southern American dish that is a comforting, simple but utterly satisfying meal. A whole chicken or chicken pieces are cooked until soft, the meat shredded and then dumplings are then poached in the chicken broth. They thicken the soup so that is has a creamy, rich texture and make it utterly moreish! This is a pushy recipe Dear Reader especially if you're in a big need of a hug!
Hand on my heart I did not expect to love this dish as much as I did. I made it a few times, each time trying to hone the dumpling recipe to be juust right. Dumplings in this case are not round, plump balls but they are actually flat like thick pasta or noodles. Although boiled chicken doesn't sound particularly exciting, it's the combination of wonderfully soft chicken and the texture of the "dumplings" and creamy soup that make it the ultimate comfort food. This is perfect winter food. We're in our final month of winter now and we need all the help we can get to get to the end in one piece.
Like simple dishes, try to use the best ingredients you can and in this case, this is the chicken. I bought an organic whole free range chicken which wasn't cheap, it was like the Bentley of chickens. I have switched butchers during COVID because while my regular one is great and sells free range hormone-free chickens, it is also in a shopping centre and I am trying to avoid those at the moment. You can of course use regular chicken or chicken pieces, I'm not suggesting that you have to buy an organic chicken. But I feel like after switching to these chickens and seeing how tasty it was, I will buy less chicken and make ones from this butcher (Emilio's in Rozelle). But I do realise that by buying chicken with qualifications, I'm sort of missing the point of this dish and why it was created.
Ivy who is Southern explained Chicken and Dumplings to me, "It is poor people's food- you know, the best kind of food. Not fancy. Flour, stock from chicken bones, vegetable scraps and chicken. It’s used to make the stock with the chickie carcass- the carrot tops and peels, the joint of the celery that no one eats, chopped onion maybe."
Ivy has a friend Traci Kay Dostalek from Alabama who apparently makes great chicken and dumplings. Ivy asked her if she could share the recipe and she sent through a guide on how to make her Granny's Chicken 'N Dumplings. Some blogs use carrot in their chicken and dumplings but apparently this is the sort of thing that southern people get very passionate about. While carrot and parsley might give the dish colour, Chicken and Dumplings is strictly a study in shades of cream with just a sprinkle of black pepper on top. No more, no less. And if you want to get a Southerner mad, put carrot and parsley in it. They'll call it chicken pot pie and maybe throw you a side eye and a "Bless your heart" (which we know now means f$% you!').
Chicken Pot Pie-not Chicken and Dumplings
Traci says, "I make my own broth with a whole chicken in a big pot. My granny always told me you must use the skin of the chicken for the flavor, so even if you use just chicken pieces, make sure its not skinless. Cover with water and add carrots, celery, onion, salt and pepper at a minimum. I usually just throw in whole peppercorns and throw more veggies in too such as parsley with stalks, shallots, kale, whatever extras I have in the fridge. Get to a nice simmer keep it going the longer the better," said Traci. "This is a poor mans dinner, so the more broth and more dumplings, the more people you can feed."
Dumpling recipes vary and a lot of people use pre-made biscuit dough but I found using a home-made buttery biscuit dough was way too soft and they completely broke up in the soup. Maybe a bought biscuit dough holds up better. Since we don't have that available here, that's an adventure for another day. Traci doesn't make her dumplings with biscuit dough instead using similar ingredients to pasta or noodles, "The dumplings are easy. Just flour (plain flour, not self rising, it puffs up too much), water, salt and pepper."
She adds, "I usually start with warm water. It mixes better. I put some water and flour in a bowl until it makes a ball of dough. Then remove from bowl and place on some baking paper that has a pile of fresh flour on it. Roll the dough around adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to your fingers or the paper. Then roll flat like a pizza. The shape doesn't really matter. Cut the dough into long rectangles. I use a pizza cutter."
Which brings me to the texture of Chicken and Dumplings. The texture of it is really one of the standouts of chicken & dumplings. The soup is thick and creamy and the dumplings are soft but not mushy and that's the comfort factor. The thickness comes from the cooking of the flour dusted dumplings in the soup itself plus a flour roux added at the end to get it creamy white without adding any cream. Because Chicken and Dumplings is done by feel whether it be a crooked wrist and a squinted eye measuring flour or just by muscle memory and mood, it can sometimes turn out different.
"Sometimes chicken 'n dumplings turns out soupy and you need a bowl, sometimes they are thicker and you can have them on a plate." Traci's advice, which I agree with is that they're, "Always even better the next day and the next day they are always thicker." The dumplings never get too soggy the next day like say the noodles in chicken noodle soup can. "When I make these for thanksgiving I move to a slow cooker and keep the warm. They keep cooking and thicken up too. I always hope I'll have leftovers at Thanksgiving, but rarely do!" says Traci.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you get passionate about how some dishes should be served? Have you ever tried chicken and dumplings?
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Chicken and Dumplings
Rated 5.0 out of 5 by 7 readers
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes to 1.5 hours
- 1 chicken or chicken pieces, skin on (1.3-1.5kgs or 2.9-3.3lbs)
- 3 litres/3 quarts water or stock (I use chicken stock powder for added flavour)
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 2-3 cups vegetable scraps (carrot, celery, anything in your crisper that needs clearing)
- Salt and pepper
- 300g/2 cups plain all purpose flour plus extra for rolling
- 30g/1oz. butter
- 1 cup/250ml/8.8flozs warm water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Note: I brined the chicken for 4 hours that morning just to ensure that it was seasoned well. To brine a chicken, dissolve 150g/5ozs of salt in 1.5 litres or 1.5 quarts of water and cool. Submerge chicken in the brine and place in the fridge for 4 hours (up to 24 hours) and then drain the water.
Step 1 - Place the chicken with the water or stock, onion and vegetables in a pot or a pressure cooker. Cook for 1 hour or until the meat and skin come off easily. I put it in the pressure cooker for 25 minutes. Strain the broth and reserve chicken. Return to pot and return the soup to boil. Wait til chicken is cool enough to handle and shred the meat and skin with forks or your hands and set aside.
Step 2 - While the chicken is cooking, make the dumpling dough. In a bowl rub the butter into the flour and then add the warm water. Knead until you get a dough. Use plenty of flour at this stage so that the dough doesn't stick but also the more flour you use, the thicker the soup will be. Roll out and then cut into 8x1cm or 3.1x0.4inch strips or 1 inch squares with a pizza cutter. Dust with more flour.
Step 3 - Once you get the broth boiling again gently drop the dumplings into the broth one or two at a time. Allow to cook for 6-8 minutes and test them for doneness. Turn the heat down to low. Add 3 tablespoons of flour to 1/2 cup of water to form a smooth roux paste. Add this roux to the soup and stir well to distribute. At this stage you can keep this simmering away on low for another 10 minutes and then eat it or transfer it to a slow cooker to keep warm or cool and keep for the following day. Season with salt and black pepper.