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Chicken and Dumplings--Cook-Off 51


David Ross
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Welcome to the latest eGullet Cook-off, Chicken and Dumplings, Number 51 in our Cook-Off Series. You’ll find the complete Cook-off Index here.

The eGullet Cook-off Series has covered such far-ranging and delicious topics as Cold Soups to Ossobuco and Enchiladas.

Our last Cook-Off captivated us with the earthy aromas of a slow-braised Lamb Stew wafting through the kitchen, (and down the halls of an apartment building).

As the cold, windy drafts of January blow us into a new decade, there are still plenty of winter days ahead and that's the perfect weather to savor a favorite comfort dish, Chicken and Dumplings. (For more discussion on this classic dish, you can read through our Chicken and Dumplings Topic here).

While I consider myself somewhat of an accomplished cook when it comes to another classic comfort dish, Chicken Pie with Biscuits, I’m a novice Chicken and Dumplings cook.

As I began to contemplate the task of cooking Chicken and Dumplings, I soon discovered that while both dishes share some common cooking techniques, they also have a number of subtle yet quite distinctive differences. I also uncovered a number of subtleties within the hundreds of recipes one finds in the Chicken and Dumplings library.

The 1913 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Merritt Farmer doesn’t include a specific recipe for Chicken and Dumplings. Like other cookbooks of the day, it does have a recipe for a “Chicken Fricassee,” described in part as “a fowl, cleaned and cut-up” and then sautéed in pork fat and stewed in either water or stock and served with a white or brown sauce. Dumplings were prepared separately from the chicken, then steamed and served with gravy on the side.

According to the 1945 edition of the “American Women’s Cookbook,” (Consolidated Book Publishers of Chicago), the opening instructions called for “cleaning and singeing the feathers of the bird.” Most cooks were apparently still raising chickens in their backyards in the 1940’s, (or at least buying freshly killed birds at the market). The cook was instructed to simmer the bird “in plain water for a very long time-an old fowl will require at least 3 or 4 hours slow cooking.” Folks must have liked their food plain back then as the instructions continued with these gentle words-“if desired, an onion and a stalk of celery may be cooked with the chicken before the dumplings are added.”

The chicken was removed from the pot and the stewing liquid was thickened into a gravy with flour and milk. The dumplings were cooked in the gravy, which was then spooned over the chicken before the platter was brought to the table.

I typically use 4 ½ lb. roasting chickens to make chicken stock and for the base of stews. Should I be using large roasting hens or capons instead? I’ve used frozen capons in the past for braised chicken dishes, and while they are advertised as having “fuller” flavor, I’ve found them bland and the meat stringy. I assume that’s due in part to the freezer burn they acquire by sitting for years in the back cases of supermarket freezers. I’m wondering what others have experienced with larger chickens.

I’ve always been under the impression that for stewed chicken dishes one uses the chicken to make a stock enriched with vegetables and aromatics and then the meat of the chicken is put back in the finished stock. Is a true Chicken and Dumpling dish made by poaching a chicken in plain water with no seasonings? Is the flavoring of the liquid a matter of regional or family heritage?

Now following on that thought, can the “stew” for Chicken and Dumplings be thickened with a roux? Does it have to stay “nude” as it were? If we use a roux, can the roux be further thickened with cream or half and half?

What about those dreaded little peas and carrots that go into a Chicken Pie? Are they banned in Chicken and Dumplings? What about pearl onions, sliced mushrooms, diced potatoes, or maybe some chopped celery added to our Chicken and Dumplings?

And what about these little puffs of flour and shortening that we call Dumplings? Is it a pre-requisite that dumplings be made with all-purpose white flour? What about using whole wheat flour, or semolina, or cornmeal, or even blue cornmeal? Should we add some fresh herbs or some nice Oregon Rogue River Bleu cheese to our dumplings? Is it an afront to tradition to even suggest putting an artisanal cheese in your dumplings? And does the size of the dumpling matter? Should they be the size of the end of your thumb, or the size of a big softball?

At this point I seem to have more questions than answers. I know I can adapt my Chicken and Biscuit recipe by substituting beautiful little Dumplings for the Biscuits and I know my rendition will be delicious. But will I be true in creating an authentic Chicken and Dumplings dish?

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I'm in. As a starting point, I'll use the recipe from Donald Link's Real Cajun. I know it's been on the menu at Herbsaint (one of his NOLA restuarants) now and again -- or maybe constantly -- but despite having been there a few times, I've never tried it.

A couple of things distinguish it, I think -- though I'm hardly a C & D expert: a robust dumpling flavored with oregano and cayenne; what might be considered non-standard ingredients in the stew: mushrooms, white wine, jalapeno and cayenne; a final oven step that browns the top of the dumplings.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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I'm new to the forums, but I'm in, too. Sounds like fun.

C&D is my all time favorite dish on the rare occasion that I eat at Cracker Barrel. I actually

reserve eating it only for when I go there. This is a great opportunity to try my hand at making it at home (which I have not previously tried).

I'm going to try to emulate the Cracker Barrel style which is white gravy, white meat chicken slices (not chunks or something else), sliced/slash-cut "drop dumplings", no veggies. I'm also going to so it kosher-style meaning I'll use shmaltz as the fat for the roux instead of butter and no cream or milk.

Simple, but hopefully tasty.

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In the version of this that we've made since I was a child, there is no roux. In fact, it's one of the simplest recipes I've ever done.

I roast and pick chicken hindquarters, about 4, and add the meat to about a quart of chicken stock that has simmered with veggies or no veggies for about 30 minutes, salting and peppering as needed. I add the dumpling batter (because, for me, it is a thick batter), directly to the broth and it makes its own gravy. I serve with potatoes for those who don't like the dumplings and a garden salad.

I'm open to trying new versions, though, and that is why I really want to participate.

I'll start looking around for recipes and start thinking about what to do more next week. I'm making large amounts of stock this weekend, so this is perfect. :D

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I confess that I'm hesitating for one reason: even though I know what they are, I can't figure out what the point of dumplings is.

Textural counterpoint? (To what? And why?)

Flavor intensification (Chicken stock instead of water?) or contrast (Dave's "robust" cayenne-spiked version)?

Carbs?

I do have to say that the idea of browning the dumplings in the oven/broiler just prior to service sounds like a terrific idea to me. Pasty, pale dumplings: yecch.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I confess that I'm hesitating for one reason: even though I know what they are, I can't figure out what the point of dumplings is.

Ever have chicken noodle soup? or matzah ball soup? or even consomme a la royale? Same idea.

While the dumplings/noodles/mazta ball are merely cooked dough, they soak up the soup/liquid component and become flavorful. It is basically experiencing the the flavor of the soup with a different texture. So part of their point is textural contrast.

In another manner of thinking, assuming you put veggies in the soup, the dumplings create a complete dish (veggies, protein, starch). As a rustic dish, this makes complete sense...so from that perspective the point is "carbs".

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Honestly Chris, I'd leave out the chicken before I'd leave out the dumplings: they are my favorite part, purely on a taste basis. They absorb flavor from the cooking liquid, beside bringing plenty of their own (despite sounding like a recipe for cardboard, flour, milk, butter and baking soda have plenty of taste).

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I confess that I'm hesitating for one reason: even though I know what they are, I can't figure out what the point of dumplings is.

Ever have chicken noodle soup? or matzah ball soup? or even consomme a la royale? Same idea.

While the dumplings/noodles/mazta ball are merely cooked dough, they soak up the soup/liquid component and become flavorful. It is basically experiencing the the flavor of the soup with a different texture. So part of their point is textural contrast.

In another manner of thinking, assuming you put veggies in the soup, the dumplings create a complete dish (veggies, protein, starch). As a rustic dish, this makes complete sense...so from that perspective the point is "carbs".

When I was reviewing my vintage cookbooks for Chicken and Dumpling recipes, I found it interesting at the number of different recipes for dumplings there actually were years ago--egg, feather, for Irish stew, for Pepper Pot, fruit, liver, peach, potato and whole-wheat were just a few of the variations I came upon. Things are a bit different today. I have a sense dumplings are often forgotten, but as noted above, dumplings are a part of some of the most noted and classic of dishes.

I've been thinking about my Great Aunt Bertie as we've been discussing Chicken and Dumplings. I called my Mother and she remembers Aunt Bertie making Chicken and Dumplings for her when she was young. Aunt Bertie was not someone who would speak of "carbs" or the "textural contrast between the dumplings and the tender peas in the delicate broth of the stew," yet I'm pretty sure she knew when she made Chicken and Dumplings using the hens from the barn and the vegetables from the garden she knew she was making a good, wholesome meal.

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Chicken and dumplings are common here in Missouri--churches often have C & D dinners as fundraisers, and they are a standard lunch special at our little cafes.

I don't know that I have ever seen drop dumplings here like y'all are talking about--ours are rolled out and cut, like a thick, soft noodle. I don't think the cooks use eggs, just flour, water (some recipes call for boiling water), salt, shortening, maybe some baking powder. These kind of dumplings can be purchased frozen in most grocery stores.

These dumplings are cooking in a rich stock with chunks or shreds of chicken, and no veggies. I am sure carrots, celery and onions are used in the stock, but they are discarded and not served.

I use spaetzle instead of dumplings when I want a carb overload. Mmmmmm.

sparrowgrass
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I imagine in families like the ones my parents grew up in - my mother had eight siblings; my father had five - the dumplings were there to stretch the dish. I grew up eating beef stew with dumpling, which I found wretched. But then, I think my mother was using a recipe straight out of the Purity cookbook, so I don't think a lot of allowance was being made for flavour. I'd be interested in trying some dumplings that have herbs in them. Does anyone use a recipe that calls for dried or fresh herbs in the dumplings?

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I imagine in families like the ones my parents grew up in - my mother had eight siblings; my father had five - the dumplings were there to stretch the dish. I grew up eating beef stew with dumpling, which I found wretched. But then, I think my mother was using a recipe straight out of the Purity cookbook, so I don't think a lot of allowance was being made for flavour. I'd be interested in trying some dumplings that have herbs in them. Does anyone use a recipe that calls for dried or fresh herbs in the dumplings?

I'm probably going to add some fresh thyme and sage to a dumpling recipe out of one of my vintage cookbooks.

I was wondering if anyone has considered the type of chicken they'll be using? I use roasting hens to make chicken stock. I've always had great success using basic supermarket roasting hens to make chicken stock--the stock is far better than what you can buy in the market and the meat stays incredibly moist. I don't find any need to buy more expensive, free-range, organic chickens or larger roasting hens or capons. Any thoughts?

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Having grown up on a farm, I can tell you "why chicken and dumplings?". Chickens were purchased as fluffy baby chicks, raised to weigh several pounds when the majority of them were killed, de-feathered and dressed, and frozen as frying chickens. The remainder, one rooster and the rest hens, were kept as a laying flock. When the layers gave out laying eggs, they were dressed as needed one at a time and put into the stewing pot. They required long, slow cooking as the old birds were tough.

By the time they were tender, most of the taste was in the broth which was yellow-rich with fat. Homemade dumplings or noodles were served with gravy made from this rich broth, and were usually cooked right in the broth. My mother mostly prepared this on a Sunday, and my brother and I would each campaign for our favorites: he for noodles and me for dumplings, although I loved noodles almost as much. We also battled over the lay poke, a long tube in which the eggs are formed, and the baby immature eggs within it, which are all yolk, that Mom would boil in water for us when she was dressing the chicken.

Mom bemoaned her noodles which were chewy and very thick, almost like spaetzle. Mine are always very tender, but I wish I had learned to make them her way as I loved those chewy ones.

I often made chicken and dumplings for my family and my kids loved it. When my daughter was a teen/preteen, she kept one of those five year diaries in which she recorded little but "what we had for dinner". She showed me once that we had eaten chicken and dumplings on the very same day of September for three years running.

My dumpling recipe comes from an old version of Joy of Cooking and wears this distinct honor: of all the recipes I've made, this is the only one whose page number (420) I remember. When the new Joy came out a few years ago I was disgusted to find that they hadn't even included the recipe. There is a second version in the old cookbook, adding parsley, which I sometimes made.

Dumplings: 2 cups flour, 1 slightly rounded T. of baking powder, 1 t. salt, 2 eggs broken in a measuring cup, add milk to the one cup line. These are dropped into a large saucepan of boiling thin gravy, 6 cups stock thickened with 1/2 cup flour. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, much longer than the recipe calls for, and don't peek. Test with a paring knife.

If parsley is desired, use up to 1/2 cup chopped, or substitute chives or 2 T. grated onion. I think the gravy that the dumplings are made in tastes a little floury, and there isn't enough anyway, so I make separate gravy.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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When I made chicken and dumplings, I am forced to admit that i use Bisquick for the dumplings :blush: and a plain old supermarket chicken. I dump about a half a teaspoon of Bell's Poultry Seasoning into the dumpling dough, and they vanish from my table most quickly! I season the chicken poaching liquid with onion, garlic, the aforementioned poultry seasoning, and a scrap more thyme (of which I'm very fond)Kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper.Now, I'm hungry all over again!

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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So...after family research on the topic I've decided how I'm going to go.

Today I'm making stock - lots of it. I have 20 pounds of hindquarters to get through this weekend. Half of those are going in the oven - salt, pepper, little garlic powder, little paprika - to be roasted for both the dumplings and my chicken tacos today. The other half are going in the new stock pot I've acquired to make stock - I think it'll end up being the largest amount I've ever done.

That said, this stock will be used for the dumplings tomorrow. I plan to put some carrot, celery, and onion in the stock, and then some new into the base for the dumplings. I'm still deciding if I want to herb up the dumplings themselves or not. I really like the idea of that and I love to do it to sandwich bread, especially that which will be filled with chicken or turkey. I'm seriously considering it.

About the whole dumpling thing: they really don't taste like cardboard. I do drop dumplings, which start out as something like a very, very thick batter, and they tend to absorb the flavors from the broth they're cooked in, at least in my experience. Use good stock and you'll have dumplings that taste good. However, spiking them with herbs wouldn't hurt. Rosemary especially comes to mind as something that would be good, at least with how my broth usually is.

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I imagine in families like the ones my parents grew up in - my mother had eight siblings; my father had five - the dumplings were there to stretch the dish. I grew up eating beef stew with dumpling, which I found wretched. But then, I think my mother was using a recipe straight out of the Purity cookbook, so I don't think a lot of allowance was being made for flavour. I'd be interested in trying some dumplings that have herbs in them. Does anyone use a recipe that calls for dried or fresh herbs in the dumplings?

Mama (who made some of the best C&D I've ever eaten) always used a roasting hen. She's boil her until she was falling apart, pick the meat off the bones and throw it back in the pot, and then put in the dumplings, which, unfortunately, I cannot remember exactly how she made. They were like a cross between pie crust and biscuit dough, rolled out and cut in strips about an inch wide by 2 1/2 inches long, and dropped into the boiling broth. They cooked up to a wonderfully chewy, toothsome consistency.

I won't be trying. I've tried for 30 years to make decent C&D, and I can't do it. Too many good meat-and-three places around here make good ones for me to ruin yet another good hen in the attempt.

Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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I'm in. As a starting point, I'll use the recipe from Donald Link's Real Cajun.

I made this last night, and it was excellent. Here's the step-by-step, more or less.

I used seven skinless-boneless thighs, because bone-in just seems needlessly messy, and I don't find boiled chicken skin very appealing. It also meant that there would be less fat to deal with (not that I have anything against chicken fat, but, well, you'll see). The chicken is seasoned with salt, black pepper and cayenne, then dredged in flour and browned:

IMG_6427.jpg

Link says to brown on medium-high; I ended up going for a notch below medium, since my cooktop seems to run hot. I also didn't want to scorch the pepper, and since it took two batches, I didn't want to burn the fond. You're shooting for a light golden-brown:

IMG_6430.jpg

The chicken comes out, and a standard mirepoix (surprisingly, not trinity, and I subbed pearl onions for chopped) goes in to tenderize and color a bit, along with fresh thyme and the seasoning that didn't get used on the chicken. (The mushrooms are sauteed separately and added.) Deglaze with white wine, then add butter:

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toss in some flour:

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Stir to make a roux:

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Put the chicken back in the pot and add stock. Bring it to a simmer and cook for about an hour, by which time, a fair amount of fat has risen to the top:

IMG_6439.jpg

I didn't take photos of the defatting; the simple application of two or three paper towels to the surface did the trick:

IMG_6441.jpg

The dumplings were made ahead so they could rest in the fridge (Link says at least 30 minutes). It's a standard dumpling recipe with an egg added, as well as onion, cayenne and dried oregano. Link calls for quenelles, but I just used a scooper:

IMG_6444.jpg

Then it goes uncovered into a 450 F oven for 20 minutes. The dumplings rise and brown:

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Bad choice of background (an Epicurean cutting board that almost exactly matches color of the broth), but here's the plated dish:

IMG_6449.jpg

This was terrific. Despite the biscuit-like crunch from the browned tops, the dough underneath remained soft and fluffy, with the bottom layer absorbing the broth nicely. The broth was rich and slightly spicy, and the chicken fork-tender. I'm glad I didn't use the whole chicken, which is how the recipe is written. I can't imagine a breast surviving an hour and a half of stewing with great results.

The restaurant origins of the recipe become clear in the making: it calls for cooking the chicken in a skillet, then transferring to a Dutch oven; the separate mushroom step. Having said that, it's an easy dish with a high reward-to-effort ratio.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Ahh.... Cooking the dumplings uncovered at high heat in an oven. That gets the browning Chris A. was looking for. Typically, I've always seen the dumplings cooked in the pot while it's COVERED. And on the stove (essentially, steaming/poaching them).

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Everyone's feedback has invaluable to me. Our discussions have made me realize that there are even greater differences between Chicken Pie with Biscuits and Chicken and Dumplings than I had realized before we began our Cook-Off.

I've started with the base for my Chicken and Dumplings--Chicken Stock. I'll be using the stock to then make the "gravy" for my dish.

The Stock-

I started with my tried and true recipe for making chicken stock. I think you may find it a bit uncoventional in that I don't do much straining of all the foam and mucky stuff that floats to the top of the stock as it stews down. I might skim the stock about 3, maybe 4 times, that's it. I suppose it's mainly due to laziness on my part. Maybe I'm just stubborn and don't think it's really necessary, or then again, since the final stock is so delicious and has such a concentrated chicken flavor maybe I've proven my own theory right in that I think spending all that time to skim away flavor isn't necessary. In any case, I put the below ingredients in the largest Le Creuset pot made and cover the whole lot with water and let it simmer on the stovetop for about 6 hours.

Two roasting chickens, 2 yellow onions, skin on and cut in half, 2 heads garlic cut in half, celery, carrot, rosemary, parsley, thyme, allspice berries, 2 bay leaves, black peppercorns-

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After hours of cooking in the aromatics, you can almost taste this wonderfully flavorful stock and tender, moist, chicken-

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The vegetables and spices are strained out and the stock is returned to the pot to reduce. The meat is pulled off the chicken and reserved. The bones are also returned to the pot to flavor the stock as it reduces. This second cooking of the stock takes about two more hours or so.

I didn't weigh the chicken meat but it's a lot. More than enough for a nice big pot of Chicken and Dumplings-

gallery_41580_6816_26402.jpg

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I bought a roasting chicken last night, and will be attempting to make this dish. The dumplings I'm used to were steamed in a covered pot as well - maybe that's why I'm disinterested in them. I'll try baking mine to a crispy top, instead. Now - never having made this dish before, nor having grown up eating it (it was always beef stew and dumplings at my house), I didn't know the chicken was cooked especially for this dish - I'd assumed it was just a way to use up leftover roast chicken, which is how I'm planning to make mine later this week. Monday night; roast chicken; make the broth from the bones; Tuesday lunch, chicken sandwiches; Tuesday dinner, chicken and dumplings.

I'm going to make a biscuit-crispy top with Chinese garlic chives baked in, for some extra flavour.

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    • By Chris Amirault
      Welcome to the eGullet Recipe Cook-Off! Click here for the Cook-Off index.
      This cook-off focuses on felafel. I've enjoyed fine felafel here in the US and overseas, but I have literally no idea how to make this, the national street food of at least a handful of Middle Eastern countries. Several people who have recommended this cook-off did so because, while they felt they had some clues, they didn't really have a consistently successful recipe or method. Sounds like a good cook-off topic, eh?
      There are a few topics on the felafel matter, including this one on tips and tricks, an older topic that finds more woes than techniques, and this preparation topic, How Do You Like Your Falafel? I also found this recipe by Joan Nathan, which seems like it might be useful.
      But what do I know? Not much, I'll tell you. Time to chime in, you!
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