This time of year, probably more than ever, you need something warm and comforting for dinner. Chicken and dumplings hits the spot. Depending on where you grew up, it may be more of the epitome of comfort food, passing up even mac and cheese and pot pies. There are several variations using a whole chicken, just breasts or just legs or thighs. Some keep it traditional with just the chicken and dumplings — others add vegetables. The biggest contention involves the dumplings. They may be lumps of dough or thick noodles. Luckily, there is no right answer; it can be whatever you want it to be.
I prefer using a whole chicken, not because it is easier (it’s not), but because it develops a much better stock than just using a single part of the chicken such as only breasts or thighs. It may take a little longer, but the finished product is worth it. There is more viscosity to the stock and there is a much stronger chicken flavor throughout the dish. The chicken could also be cooked the day before and saved in the refrigerator. Heavily salt your chicken (let sit for 15 minutes to an hour to soak in), add it to your pot along with your aromatics (garlic and herbs) and water. The chicken should be mostly covered with the water. It will take about an hour to an hour and a half to cook it. You want the chicken tender enough that the leg can be pulled off easily but doesn’t fall off in the pot on its own. Once the chicken is cooked, you can remove it and let it cool until it’s cold enough to pull the meat off. As you pull off the skin, bones and other parts that are not meat you want to eat, put them back into the liquid to extract more flavor. Once the chicken is all pulled, you can refrigerate and save for the next day or reserve on the counter until you are
ready to add the same day.
I like to add vegetables; they add great color to the dish and you can be a little more healthy. I prefer to sweat them, then make the roux with the vegetables. Others add them whole and simmer them with the chicken to help flavor the stock, then cut them after and add them back with the chicken. Onions, carrots and celery are common, but mushrooms, corn, peppers, or even some greens are also great options.
The key to the dumplings no matter if you are making flat or round is to not overwork them. The more they get worked, the more gluten is developed and they will become tough. You want to work the dough until it just comes together; this will help keep them fluffy and light. The baking powder and egg will also help the dumpling puff as it cooks in the liquid.
CHICKEN SOUP BASE
1 whole 4-5-pound chicken, heavily salted (a larger chicken will work, you may need to increase other amounts slightly)
6 cups water or chicken stock (stock will give a richer flavor)
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of thyme
1 or 2 bay leaves
VEGETABLES AND ROUX
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, small diced
2 medium carrots, small diced
2 to 3 stalks celery, small diced
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup milk
½ cup cream
Chicken stock made from the whole chicken at the beginning
Salt and pepper as needed (may need less salt if using pre-made stock)
Put the whole chicken into a 4- to 6-quart pot. Salt heavily, gather your other ingredients, then cover with water and bring to a simmer for an hour over low heat. Carefully remove the chicken and place onto a tray or casserole pan to cool for five to 10 minutes. Pull off all of the skin and place it back into the pot. Pull off all of the meat and shred into bite-sized — or other size as desired — pieces and reserve in a separate plate or bowl. Put any leftover bones, skin or other parts back into the pot, return the heat to low, and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes to extract some extra flavor while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
Once all the ingredients are ready, strain the chicken stock, save the garlic to add later, and discard the rest. Rinse the pot and clean if necessary. Add the butter and oil to the pot over medium heat and sweat the onion, carrots and celery. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook while frequently stirring until fragrant and there is a slight brown on the edges of the onions. Add the flour and stir until it has absorbed all of the fat. Keep on medium heat and stir in milk, cream and about ¾ of the chicken stock. Make sure to hold back at least 1 cup of stock to make dumplings. Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes while you make the dumpling dough/batter.
1½ cups flour
1 tablespoon chives
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt ( or ½ teaspoon sea or table salt)
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
½ cup chicken stock, more as needed (extra can be added back to the pot)
2 tablespoons chives, sliced
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced
Mix flour, chives, parsley, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix egg, milk and melted butter. Slowly mix the liquid into the dry mixture. The mixture should be sticky, but not overmixed. If it seems a little dry, add a little more chicken stock. Slowly spoon balls or disks between the size of a nickel to a quarter as you prefer into the simmering pot. Cover with the lid and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, and smashed garlic reserved from making the stock, cover and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. The dumplings should be plump and a little bouncy when pressed down. Turn the heat off and let sit for a few minutes. Top each bowl with a minced parsley and chives, serve and enjoy.