Thursday, February 09, 2012

Chicken and Dumplings Today

I was looking through a book that has been languishing on my cookbook shelf for a while, James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking (from 1977). My impression is that Mr. Beard was a teacher and I must admit that his introduction to the Boiling chapter was as comprehensive a discussion of what happens in cooking when heat is applied to a liquid as you can imagine. Poaching, Steaming, making of Stock, Soups, Pasta and more are illustrated as you go through the chapter with wonderful recipes for each category included.

When I reached Dumplings and Gnocchi and saw Old Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings I realized that I already had a great recipe from my Mom for that. Sure enough, when I checked out the recipe it was for simmered chicken topped with dumplings that become cooked and light via steam...from boiling liquid. It is old fashioned comfort food, warm and savory. Just the thing for a chilly winter night. It is also apparently part of a renewed interest in Southern cooking. Nothin' wrong with that. It photographs as sort of plain, not an uncommon problem with some poached foods, but don't let that put you off. Give it a try!

My mother's version is only a bit different from Mr. Beard's. My updated version of my Mom's recipe includes using boneless, skinless chicken pieces, not because they are superior to whole chickens but because that's what I had on hand. Again, they don't look too pretty but this dish has FAR less fat than fried chicken, another newly popular Southern food (which does, indeed, look better).

I think a fuller chicken flavor would have been possible if the chicken had at least had bones. I also removed the chicken from the broth once it was just cooked. The bowl with the chicken stayed warm in the closed microwave, with a layer of foil over the dish since I wasn't actually going to microwave it. While the chicken stayed warm I reduced the broth by about 1/3 which helped strengthen the chicken flavor without toughening the chicken itself. Perhaps if I had started with a whole chicken I would have been comfortable keeping the chicken in the boiling stock. Might have to try that next time.

When it came time to cook the dumplings, I just put them right into the simmering stock, closed the pot lid tightly and let them steam 15 minutes. Once the dumplings were cooked I removed them to the bowl with the chicken, then thickened the stock with a flour/water paste. At last all the elements could be mingled with the dumplings being placed around the edge of the pan and the chicken in the middle. I spooned some of the sauce over the chicken and served it up. Green peas added some green to the dish.

Although the chicken itself, napped with sauce, was delicious, I must admit I enjoyed the dumplings. They were as I remembered them from childhood; the underside was moist and succulent from the broth, the top was dry but tender and the center was light and tender, too. The parsley added color and just a bit of herby flavor. It's amazing that I've not made this dish in ages. It does take a little time since you simmer the chicken, then have to steam the dumplings, but it isn't difficult and it's pretty healthy and low fat since I use non-fat milk for the dumplings and skinless chicken, too.

The vegetables can be varied and you could add some white wine, too, for additional flavor, but the one thing you must have is a pot with a tight fitting lid so that the steam stays trapped for cooking the dumplings. Otherwise you might have lumps more like bricks than clouds and that would be a shame.

Chicken and Dumplings
Serves 4-6

2 lbs cut up chicken (I used boneless, skinless...if using chicken with bones, plan on additional simmering time)
2 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 lb mushrooms
1 carrot cut in half and sliced
1 stalk celery, cut in three pieces
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
for Dumplings:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk

Clean the chicken with cold water and put into the refrigerator until ready to cook. Using a pot with a tight lid that will hold the chicken and about the same volume of other ingredients, cover the bottom with the herbs, mushrooms, carrot, celery and onion, distributing the ingredients throughout the pot.

Place the chicken pieces over the herbs and vegetables and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Barely cover the chicken with cold water. Cover tightly and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until tender, 1 - 2 hours. Check at 1 hour to see how close to being done the chicken is.

When chicken is tender, remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl or pan, cover with foil and keep warm. (I put the bowl into the microwave but didn't use the microwave at all while the chicken sat). Remove the parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs, bay leaf and celery pieces and discard.

Increase the heat and, with pot uncovered, boil the broth to reduce by 1/3. While broth is still at boiling point, add dumplings (recipe below), cover tightly, reduce heat to simmer, and steam dumplings for 15 minutes.Keep the lid on the whole peeking!

After dumplings are cooked, remove them to the bowl with the chicken, again using a slotted spoon. Thicken the broth with a flour/water paste (the amount will depend on the amount of broth...usually 1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour mixed with slightly more water than that) and simmer until thickened.

Return the chicken and dumplings to the pot, basting the chicken with the thickened sauce. Cover and keep over low heat for 1 minute to return everything to a hot temperature. Serve at once with a green vegetable or salad, being sure to include at least one dumpling and some sauce with each serving.


  1. "Lumps more like bricks than clouds" Hahaha! Um, yeah. Been there, just need a trowel to ladle on the cement.

    I'm realizing that I haven't gotten pots since... a couple of years after I got married. And I need a Dutch oven and a few really heavy enameled cast iron things... That'll be one of the first things I do when we get somewhere permanent.

  2. Chicken and dumplings! I LOVE chicken and dumplings! Thanks for the reminder.

    Its photographs are plain? Not at all!! The stew looks fabulous. I can almost smell the wonderful aroma.

    My father-in-law makes an amazing chicken and dumplings dish with leeks in the stew and cornmeal and buttermilk in the dumplings. Now I'm going to have to decide whether to make your recipe or his.

  3. Beard's discussions/books seem pretty timeless to my thinking. My grandmother used to do chicken & dumplings, my mother never. I'm sure this fellow in the house with me would love this dish.

  4. Tanita, I was lucky to 'inherit' mine from Sweetie's first marriage, so I got him and some lovely cooking items...lucky me!

    Elizabeth, they both sound good so maybe you could do each one and compare them?

    Tanna, I think this is truly a great guy dish and a great time of year to find out with your guy.