Tuesday, March 6, 2012

True Comfort: Chicken and Dumplings

My dad had his gall bladder out this morning, but before he even went to bed last night he announced his desire to have chicken and dumplings for dinner tonight. Seeing as how he doesn't often make special requests, and he did just undergo major surgery and all, I felt the need to oblige him.

Forget gnocchi, these are the true heavenly pillows

Chicken and dumplings is a very special meal to me, and has a lot of great memories associated with it. My grandfather would keep us over the summers, and he would make the most awesome chicken and dumplings and add a little cayenne pepper to it, which I fell in love with. I also can't help but recall my first real failure in the kitchen, when a batch of dumplings dissolved into the broth instead of floating up like happy little clouds.

I'm happy to say that I've got the recipe down pat now, and I feel the need to post it, if only for posterity. It's excellent comfort food, extremely inexpensive to make (under $5), and really, who doesn't love chicken and dumplings?

KB learned how to use a peeler today, plus some basic knife skills.

The amounts needed for dumplings are a rough estimate. Sometimes you want a lot of dumplings, sometimes just a few. This kind of dough is difficult to quantify, because every batch is different. As long as you get it to the point where it won't accept any more flour without falling apart, you're golden. Also, using minimal water means that you'll get a lovely, rich broth. If you want to stretch it a bit, you can add more water and use a taller stockpot. I made this batch in a 3-qt pot, but it's pretty common to see it made in larger stock pots.

Chicken and Dumplings

Meat and broth:
  • 1 whole chicken (about 3 lbs)
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced 
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder 
  • salt
  • black pepper
For the dumplings:
  • 5-6 cups self-rising flour
  • 1-1.5 cups lard
  • 3-4 tablespoons buttermilk (plain milk or chicken broth will do)
Place chicken and vegetables in a pot just large enough to fit it all, and cover with water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until the chicken is cooked (flip it if necessary), then remove the chicken from the broth and let cool. Pick the meat from the bone and add back to the broth. Add additional salt if necessary. The broth should be flavorful but not heavily salty, as the dumplings will also be slightly salty.

To make dumplings, cut the lard into about 2/3 of the flour until it is well integrated and crumbly. Work the milk into the mixture until the dough reaches a tacky consistency, then add more flour and mix in. Continue working in additional flour until the dough can't accept any more without becoming a crumbly mess - it should still be pliable enough to press into a ball.

Bring the broth up to a rolling boil, and drop dumplings in one at a time. The dumplings will float to the top when they're cooked. Remove from heat (or turn heat to low) and serve.

Total cook/prep time: 1 hour
Happiness rating: 10/10

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