Friday, November 4, 2011

One Meal Becomes Two - Part Three: Chicken and Dumplings

Finally?! Right?  Well let me advise you ahead of time that I am full to the brim with fail.  The pictures I took of this dish look absolutely wretched, and it was already in my belly before I realized I had snapped no photos of the finished product.  But...-but-...once you have a stomach full of chicken and dumplings you will forgive me...I promise.

Let's get to it!

Chicken and Dumplings


1 stick of butter
A few tablespoons of flour
6 cups (give or take) of stock
Chicken - about a pound - coarsely chopped

2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup of vegetable shortening
1/4 cup of -cold- water

1) Melt the stick of butter over medium heat in a nice sized pot (I suggest an 8quart stock pot if you have one, just to give yourself room to maneuver).  Once the stick is fully melted add flour by the tablespoon and stir until a paste forms.  

2) Whisk in stock by the cup until a broth forms.  It should be opaque, not clear. There are two things to remember want the broth you be thin because once the dumplings are tossed in, the starch will thicken up your soup.  Second, if you run out of broth DO NOT PANIC.  Warm water will do just fine.  I have made batches of chicken and dumplings with half water half broth and they came out delicious, you just have to adjust your seasoning accordingly.

3) Stop here and taste your broth.  This is a very important step because the broth will literally make or break the entire dish, and as other elements are added it will be more difficult.  At this point it does not need to be completely salted, but it should give you an idea of what the finished product will taste like.  If your broth tastes a little bland, but still pretty yummy, then leave it be.  If it tastes like water, reach for the salt, but you also might want to consider adding a teaspoon or so of onion or garlic.

4) Bring your broth to a boil and then add chopped chicken.  If you want a soup that has a bit more substance, feel free to add diced carrots and celery.  Again, take care with the amount of bulk you add because you still want to keep it brothy, so if it starts to look thick, add a cup of broth or water to even it out.

5) Let the soup boil for a couple of minutes, then turn down to low.  Adjust the seasoning then cover and let simmer until the dumplings are ready.

6) Dumplings: Sift flour and salt into bowl and then cut in shortening.  Now, what the hell does that mean?  If you do not have pastry cutter, just place the shortening on top of the flour and with a butter knife, literally cut the shortening into the flour.  Keep at it until the shortening is broken up into pea sized pieces, then start adding cold water by the tablespoon.  Stir or mix with your hand until a ball forms and then roll it out on a well floured surface.  I usually roll the dough out to about 1/4 of an inch, but if you like thicker dumplings try 1/2 an inch.  Keep in mind that they will puff up as they cook.  

7) Once the dumplings are rolled out, remove the top from your soup and bring it to a boil.  This is a good time for a flavor and consistency check.  It should taste complete now, but if it has reduced (thickened) too much, feel free to add broth and adjust the flavor.  

8) While the soup is heating up, cut your dumplings with a knife or pizza cutter.  I like to make diamonds, but squares, circles or baby elephants will probably work just fine.
9) Once the soup has come to a rolling boil, drop the dumpling pieces in. Be careful not to burn yourself with hot soup!  If you would like, feel free to re-roll the edges and drop them in.  I usually just toss the edges or use them to make a mini-crust for something else.  Let it boil until the dumplings begin floating to the top, and then turn it down to a simmer once more.

10) Let it simmer covered for about ten minutes and are done! 

Let's talk briefly about finishing.  There are several little touches I like to add based on availability of ingredients and the occasion.  If I want to fancy it up a bit, I add about half a cup of cream, 1/4 a cup of fresh chopped parsley and a cup to two cups of peas.  I have done all variations of the ingredients above...just adding parsley, or peas, or cream.  Peas are my favorite because they give just a hint of sweetness to a satisfyingly salty soup.

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