Chicken and Dumplings

The holidays are over, we're starting a new year and it's sort of freaking me out a little.  Firstly, I miss the Christmas tree and the stockings hanging on the fireplace and the Christmas lights and the music and how is it over already?  I'm pretty sure that yesterday was November 3rd.  The calendar says otherwise.  It also says 2016.  I'm not even done with 2015.  Is it just me or didn't 2015 sound kind've cool and hip and current and now I'm supposed to just think of it as out of date, and over?  I'm not one to resist change, as a rule, and this sounds way more whine-y than I really feel; I just need a minute.

So to get me through this transition I've called upon what I believe to be the mac daddy of all comfort foods... chicken and dumplings.  I think I mentioned a few posts ago that I'm not really into the whole "comfort food" genre cuz I won't eat something unless it has that effect on me, meaning that all food should be comfort food.  But I will have to admit that chicken and dumplings may just hold a special place of honor for me in this category that I don't really subscribe to.  

When the kids were little, many many moons ago, I made chicken and dumplings quite frequently and it became one of their favorite meals.  As they got older, I made it less frequently, for no good reason really, so it became a nostalgic treat for them (and us).  And then recently, my daughter asked me to post my recipe for chicken and dumplings (and by recently I mean 3 or 4 months ago - sorry Lisa) because the one I had given her all those years ago just wasn't coming out right.

Well, my dear girl, I have figured out the problem, it has been fixed and I apologize that the recipe I gave you wasn't all that accurate, and I will blame it on the fact that back in the day, I never wrote down my recipes, so there was very little consistency, which is why I started this blog and which is why we now have a good, solid, dependable recipe for my chicken and dumplings.  Oh, and it tastes good too.  This is some good stuff...pretty much what I used to make, but maybe just a little better.

So we're going to start with chicken thighs.  Five of them.  Boneless, skinless.

I love chicken thighs cuz you can cook the s#*t out of them but they just get more tender and flavorful, as opposed to breast meat which will overcook and dry out on you in about 4 1/2 minutes.  

So once you get your chicken cooked, it's just a matter of throwing in your onions, carrots and celery, your seasonings and thickening and milk and oh, I may or may not have added just a bit of cream to the sauce.  OMG.  It doesn't take much, just 1/4 of a cup.  Or maybe a little more.  To be fair, all I had was 2% milk, so a little cream just brought it up to whole milk, right?  That's what I'm going with.

It's important to get your sauce tasting just perfect, so taste for salt and pepper and then mix your dumpling ingredients together and drop by spoonfuls onto the sauce.

Take special care to form them into perfectly round balls and place them an equal distance from each other as you see in the above photo.  NOT!!  For crying out loud, a first grader could have done a more artful job of this.  But as you will see, chicken and dumplings are very forgiving and will rise and totally conceal any inadequacies you might feel about your dumpling formation. And then you can call them rustic.

These are some really light and fluffy dumplings and so amazingly good.  But in order to create their lightness and fluffiness, you must have steam.  And in order to create steam, you must cook your dumplings covered and do not lift the lid until after the 15-minute point or you will be making chicken and hockey pucks.  I like to use a glass lid so I can keep visual contact with my dumplings during this process.  If they look fluffy and puffy at 15 minutes, they're probably done.  They should have doubled in size.  

Again, be sure to very skillfully and artfully scatter your herbs over the top of your dumplings so they will be evenly distributed as you see in the above photo.  Presentation is everything.  You do not want piles of herbs here and there.  Oh bother.

Then just serve them up!  Place some dumplings in each bowl and ladle lots of that yummy sauce over the top.  A good sprinkling of chives and parsley is a nice way to finish them off.  For propriety's sake, I only put 2 dumplings in the bowl in the photo, but I'm sure there were 3 in my bowl and then I may or may not have had another one.  

That's the thing about comfort food... you tend to eat until you're uncomfortable.  Here's the recipe...

Chicken and Dumplings

Click here for a printable recipe

Perhaps the quintessential comfort food, chicken and dumplings, if done well, is as about as heartwarming a dish as there is.  In order to achieve the "done well" part, I've learned a few tricks that I've noted below in the recipe.  The first and foremost is to not lift the lid while the dumplings are cooking.  They need steam to create rise which will be lost and escape forever if you lift the lid too soon.  It's a good way to make chicken and hockey pucks.  I actually leave the lid on until after I've removed the pan from the heat and the sauce has stopped bubbling.  That keeps your sauce and dumplings nice and moist.

Serves 4 

1 to 1 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 5 thighs)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup diced carrot
½ cup diced celery
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 bay leaves
½ cup flour
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk (I combine 1 2/3 cups of 2% lowfat milk and 1/3 cup cream)
1 cup frozen peas
Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Chopped chives for garnish

Dumplings

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons butter 

Add the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to a Dutch oven, or 12-inch sauté pan (it will need to be at least 2-3 inches deep) and heat  over medium high heat.  Add the chicken thighs, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and cook until the thighs start to take on a little color, about 5 minutes or so.  Turn and brown the other side for a couple of minutes, cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and let the chicken cook through, about 15 minutes or so.  You can add a little chicken stock or water to the pan if it seems to be drying out. 

Remove the cooked chicken from the pan, cover with foil and let rest for a few minutes and then shred or cut the meat in chunks.   

Add the 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan and then add the carrot, celery and onion.  Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the flour to make a roux.  Continue to stir and cook for 2 minutes to coat the flour and remove the starchy taste.  

Slowly pour in the chicken stock and let it simmer until it has thickened, about 5 to10 minutes.  Stir in 1 ½ cups of the milk, the bay leaves and peas.  Heat through.  The sauce should ultimately be the consistency of cream soup; not too thin, but certainly not too thick.  It will continue to thicken as the dumplings cook.  Stir the cooked chicken into the sauce.  If the sauce seems a little too thick, add as much of the reserved milk as needed.  

Make the dumpling batter…Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Stir in the milk and melted butter with a wooden spoon until incorporated and smooth.

Using a soup spoon, scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the dumpling dough and then push the dumpling onto the sauce using a second spoon.  Continue with the rest of the batter, leaving about ½ inch between the dumplings.

Cover and simmer until dumplings are cooked through, about 15 minutes. The secret to a light and fluffy dumpling is the steam, so once the pan is covered, do not uncover while the dumplings are cooking! 

If I can tell that the dumplings have doubled in size and are about done, I remove the pan from the heat at about 13 minutes and let it sit for about 10 minutes or so.  If you let the sauce cool down just a bit so it’s not actively bubbling, you won’t lose all the moisture when you lift the lid. 

To serve, spoon the chicken and dumplings into bowls and sprinkle with the chopped chives and parsley.  (Be sure to remove the bay leaves from the sauce before serving).

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