Saturday, March 26, 2011

Weekend Cooking..The Best Chicken and Dumplings

I love Chicken and Dumplings, another one of those favorites from my childhood. A perfect dish for a chilly night, even if it is Spring. Tender, flavorful chicken, a creamy, tasty sauce, perfectly cooked carrots and peas and tiny baby onions, all topped by light, fluffy dumplings.
At least that is the ideal, and while my previous attempts were always good, they were not quite good enough.

So, I did some research online, looked through my cookbooks and finally settle on a recipe from The Best Recipe from my old friends at Cook's Illustrated. Yes, them again. What can I say, but when I read their recipe and they explained the choices they made, it just made sense. I also found the same recipe online, at Simply Recipes, with a few changes, and the dumpling instructions are their's.
It made the best Chicken and Dumplings I have ever tasted.
Maybe not the easiest. Maybe not the quickest. But the best.

Why not the easiest or quickest?
Well, you need to use a whole chicken. You need to cut it up and brown some of the pieces. You need to 'sweat' the browned chicken pieces and then use the resulting liquid to make a quick stock. You need to steam the veggies separately. You need to shred the meat by hand. You need to make and toast a roux. There are a good number of separate steps.
But believe me, it is worth the bit of extra work.

Poached Chicken and Aromatic Vegetables
* 1 large roasting chicken (5 to 6 lbs), cut into 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 2 breast pieces, each with skin removed; back, neck, and wings hacked with a cleaver into 1 to 2 inch pieces to make stock
* 1 Tbsp olive oil
* 1 large onion, cut into large chunks
* 2 bay leaves
* Salt

* 3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 7 ounces(1/2 bag) frozen baby onions
* 3-4 red skinned potatoes, cut into about 1 inch pieces
* 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, or chicken fat from the cooked chicken
* 6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme
* 2 Tbsp dry sherry or vermouth 
* 1/4 cup of heavy cream (optional)
* 3/4 cup frozen peas
* 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
* Ground black or white pepper

Herbed Dumplings
* 2 cups  all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 Tbsp butter, melted
* 3/4 cup milk
* 1/4 cup minced fresh herb leaves such as parsley, chives, and tarragon (optional)

1. Make the stock.
Heat olive oil in a deep (at least 4-inch high) large skillet or 6-qt Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add hacked up chicken pieces - the back, neck, and wings - and onion chunks (not the baby onions). Sauté until onions soften and chicken pieces lose their raw color, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and continue to cook for about 20 minutes. While chicken stock pieces are cooking, bring 6 cups of water (or 4 cups of canned stock and 2 cups of water, as I did) to a boil. Increase heat to to medium-high, add the 6 cups of stock/hot water to the chicken pieces.

2 Poach the chicken in the stock.
Add skinless chicken parts (legs, thighs, breasts), 2 bay leaves, and 3/4 teaspoon of salt to the stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat; continue to simmer, partially covered, until broth is flavorful and chicken parts are just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove chicken parts from the pan and set aside. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones in 2-inch chunks. Do not cut with a knife but shred by hand. Place a strainer over a large bowl and pour the broth through it, straining out the solids from the broth. Discard the solids. Skim and reserve the chicken fat from broth (a fat separator works great for this task) and set aside 5 cups of broth, reserving extra for another use.

3. Make the dumpling batter.
While chicken is cooking, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add (optional) chopped fresh herbs. Add melted butter and milk to the dry ingredients. Gently mix with a spoon until mixture just comes together. (Note: do not overmix! or your dumplings will turn out too dense.) Set aside.

4. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 inch of water to simmer in a pot or skillet fitted with a steamer basket. Add celery, potatoes, carrots and onions to basket and steam about 10 minutes, until barely tender. Do not overcook as they will cook further in the stew. Remove and set aside.

6. Make the stew base, assemble the stew.
Heat butter or reserved chicken fat in the pan you had used to make the stock in over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour and thyme; cook, whisking constantly, until flour turns golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add sherry or vermouth, then slowly add the reserved 5 cups of chicken stock; simmer until mixture thickens slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the vegetables, peas and parsley, chicken and optional cream; return to a good simmer. Taste sauce and adjust with salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

7. Add the dumplings.
Drop dumpling batter into the simmering stew by heaping teaspoonfuls, over the surface of the stew. Cover and simmer until dumplings are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Once you have covered the pan, do not uncover while the dumplings are cooking! In order for them to be light and fluffy, they must steam, not boil. Uncovering the pan releases the steam. If after 15 minutes they are still not cooked through (use a toothpick or skewer to test) cover pan again, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Ladle portions of meat, sauce, vegetables, and dumplings into soup plates and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

This same chicken and vegetable mixture would, of course, also made a lovely chicken pot pie with the addition of a nice crust.  A few changed I made to the original recipe, but nothing serious.
Ok, I did not use the Cook's Illustrated recipe for the dumplings. They gave directions for flat noodle-like dumplings and biscuit-like dumplings as well as round ones. My mother always used Bisquick dumplings, I love them and so I used Bisquick and the recipe on their box. Light, fluffy, delicious.
I like the tiny onions, while the original recipe used boiling onions. I added the potatoes and I think using a box (4 cups) of pre-made chicken stock, rather than all water, can't but add to the flavor of the sauce.

And flavor it had, in spades!

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


  1. Boy you have got my stomach growling! And it isn't even dumpling weather down here! I've made something similar to this, and you are right it is alot of work. But oh, are they good! This is soul food.

  2. You had my mouth watering. Can't beat Cooks recipes.

  3. That does sound labor intensive but at the same time certainly sounds worth it. I've never used bisquick but you use if for dumplings? Hmmmm . . . maybe I should invest in a box. Have a good weekend!

  4. oh, I love bisquick dumplings! love them!

    now they are light and fluffy, what I call Northern dumplings, not the rolled dumplings popular in some other places, which I am sure some other people like better.

  5. I haven't had breakfast yet, but now I want this! LOL. And yes, Cooks recipes and cookbooks are so often just the best. I have that cookbook, but I don't think I've made this chicken. (will be soon tho!)

  6. My recipe this week also uses the whole chicken...sometimes I just think it's worth the extra effort to get that flavor :) My idea of chicken and dumplings is my great grandmother's...she rolled out her dumplings but everything in hers was either out of her garden, one of her hens, etc. When she made it, she made a ton and the entire family would come over to eat. She's gone now...and can you believe that no one, no one has a clue how to make her dumplings? :(

  7. My grandmother used to make this, but my mom never got the hang of it, so we didn't have it very often when I was growing up as my grandmother lived two states away.

    Looks delish!

  8. I was particularly interested in the dumplings since we are only used to potato ones. Sounds interesting and worth a try.

  9. I think in the USA there are several types of dumplings used in soups and stews like this...they have a lot in common, flour and leavening, without or without shortening or butter. But the 'rolled' type are firmer, more like a noodle and these are like light, fluffy clouds of

    Peppermint..that is a tragic thing! tell you what you need to do. start with a good recipe like this one, make it and see how it compares.
    And you are so right about the big difference in flavor with a bone in chicken.

  10. That SLOW COOKER REVOLUTION is my only ATK cookbook - so far! I used to subscribe to the magazine, don't know why I let it lapse. As you say, they explain WHY they do certain things, which is so much more than just sharing a wonderful recipe.


  11. This is a favorite from my childhood too, but I have never made it (my brother used make it a lot) I might have to give this recipe a try this week, it looks so good.

  12. Dawn, as much as I love the slow cooker now, sometimes you need something else, and The Best Recipe is a great cookbook to take you there.

  13. Alex, I do not think you will be disappointed!
    What time should I be over? :-)

  14. Oh yum... I have not made this in like FOREVER!

  15. This looks like one of those dishes that I should do just for fun. Just spend a fun afternoon with it. You know, get a nice glass of something and some light snacks and mess around with the chicken.

    I like whole chickens too and it's coming into the season when they are at their best, both quality and price. I'm bookmarking this page so I can come back in the next few weeks and give it a try.

  16. That looks to die for! Sadly, I work until 6 each night, so there are no labor intensive recipes in my menu line up. Just let me know what time to be over next time you make this! Thanks for sharing such a lovely recipe.

  17. can you make again since i was not home that weekend? btw i made you a cookie

  18. Looks wonderful! We make chicken and dumplings now and then, using a stew from Julia Child's Way to Cook and the dumplings from Joy of Cooking. Mine turns out soupier than yours and doesn't have peas, which I know my husband would really like.

  19. I've never made dumplings so I thank you for the recipe.

  20. Cooks Illustrated is the best place to do some serious food "research" and I turn to their recipes and advice often. I'm glad to hear this recipe was delicious after you put so much time and effort into it!

  21. Hm, I always thought chicken and dumplings was a very Southern meal.

  22. This recipe sound and looks delicious! I don't mind spending time cooking especially when the end results are so good. It is all worth my time! However my husband is lactose in tolerant and I try not to make heavy dairy foods. Do you know what I can supplement the dairy ingredients with? Do you think it will taste as good and will be still worth it to make?

  23. well, the only dairy in the stew in the cream, right, which you could totally leave out. it makes it richer, but it would still be delicious.
    now the dumplings are another matter. Bisquick only calls for the addition of milk but I am not sure another liquid would work.


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