This is your captain (obvious) speaking. It's cold.
We enjoyed our second snowfall of the fall/winter season this week- well I enjoyed it. I love snow! But let me stay at home with my hot chocolate and my bathrobe, and I'll be mesmerized by the beautifully, slow falling flakes for hours.
When it's bitterly cold outside, few things really warm you like chicken and dumplings. They're so good! My aunt is known in our family as the queen of chicken and dumplings. Her soup is thick and creamy, and her dumplings light and dense at the same time. It's crazy good, and defies science.
I went a couple years ago to see how she made it. I watched her from start to finish, and then got to enjoy the fruits of her labor. She demonstrated every step and explained why she did things the way she did. I took notes. It was a real "snatch the pebble, grasshopper" moment. By the way, if you want to learn how to make something, I love the method of watching someone or helping someone do it. You spend some good, quality time with that person and you learn how to make it. Whether it be a family member, friend, lady at church, whoever- don't be afraid to ask them to help you learn.
Now it may seem a bit crazy after talking about how awesome her stuff was to say that I decided to alter it, but I did. She used some pre-packaged/convenience items. Not that there's anything wrong with that (quick, name that sitcom)! There's truly not, but being the kitchen nut I am, I wanted to know how to do it, truly from scratch. The method stayed the same, but the approach/ingredients changed. Here is my experience:
Take a whole chicken, and cut it into the 8 separate body pieces. Use it, along with vegetables and herbs/spices to make stock. Remove the meat when it's cooked so it doesn't get overcooked and return the bones to the pot to keep making the stock more flavorful and richer. Separate the ingredients and return the chicken and stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, and add your dumpling dough. Cook through, 10-15 minutes, and enjoy! It took me a couple times to get the dumplings, and the second time I used a slight variation on Alton Brown's recipe. Those came out much better than mine, which were a variation on my regular biscuit recipe.
By the way, I am a Chicken and Dumplings purist, meaning that I don't need other vegetables in my soup. It's literally just chicken and dumplings in a broth. If you're looking for more, maybe that will come later, but this is all I've ever needed. Also, dumplings to me are cloudy, pillowy floating biscuits and not flat. Just FYI, should you be shocked at the results, expecting flat noodly things.
Chicken and Dumplings
whole recipe inspired by my Aunt Jenny; dumplings by Alton Brown
1 whole chicken, cut up but bones and skin left in tact
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch sections
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 ribs celery, cut into 2 inch sections
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 Tb whole peppercorns
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 Tb butter, chilled or frozen
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, place the chicken and all the vegetables, whole peppercorns, and 2 tsp. salt. Cover with about 1- 1 1/2 inches of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high or high heat, and then back the heat down to med-low or low to simmer. Skim foam off the top. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Cut off the heat and allow the pot to cool most of the way. Remove the chicken and take the skin and meat off the bones, loosely shredding the chicken as you go. Discard the skin but reserve the meat. Add the bones back to the pot, and bring back to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer another 60 minutes, or until the bones begin to soften and the vegetables are limp. Remove from heat and cool. Strain through a cheesecloth lined strainer, and discard the vegetables (or eat them, as we did) and discard the bones. This can be done in stages.
Return the now made and strained stock and the shredded chicken to the pot, and bring back to a boil over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper to taste. While heating the chicken and stock, make the dumpling dough: In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, and baking soda. Cut or grate in the butter (see my grating tip below) until you have a mixture that looks coarse and pebbly. Add the buttermilk and stir until just incorporated. You will have a very moist, shaggy dough. When the chicken stock is boiling, drop the dough in with a small disher or large spoonful, about 2-3 Tb. Cover the pot and allow the dumplings to cook through, about 10-15 minutes.
- From Rachael Ray and Ina Garten, I recently learned that cooling the chicken in the stock liquid fortifies the stock further and keeps the chicken moist. You could skip the step of allowing the chicken and stock liquid to cool, but I liked the results here. I also liked returning the bones to the pot and further cooking the stock. The flavor was great.
- From my Aunt Jenny, I learned that you need a loose dough/batter, which she says is the secret to her light and fluffy yet dense dumplings. She uses a Southern style biscuit mix and adds vegetable oil to the mix until it's about as runny as pancake batter. I wanted to make my own dumplings, but the first trial of chicken and dumplings proved that my standby biscuit recipe was not going to hack it. Thankfully, the slight variation of Alton Brown's dumplings in his I'm Just Here for More Food worked well.
- I can't say that it's an original idea of mine to grate butter rather than to cut it into cubes, but I can't remember where I got it, so I'll just tell you that I've found a trick for cutting butter that really works for me. About 10 minutes before you need the butter, place the butter and a larger hole cheese grater in the freezer. When you get to the part of your recipe that tells you to cut the butter into the dry ingredient mixture, grate the butter into the mixture, using the cheese grater. The trick is to keep the butter and everything that touches the butter as cold as possible during this process. Some will stick to the grater, but that shouldn't affect your final outcome that much.