Recipe updated Aug, 2011
Chicken and dumplings – the ultimate comfort food. When we were kids, my mother used to make chicken and dumplings for us by simply adding Bisquick biscuit dough to chicken stew. We would always fight over the dumplings. (Ever wonder why people from big families eat fast? The first kid who finished could get seconds on the dumplings.) Making dumplings that are tasty, light, yet hold together isn’t a given. The Bisquick version, although light and fluffy, tends to fall apart. At the other end of the spectrum, my dad remembers his mother’s dumplings which were, in his words “as hard as hockey pucks”. Leftovers would be grated the following morning and fried up like potatoes.
The dumplings in this recipe are firm enough to hold together without disintegrating even after multiple reheats of the stew, yet still manage to be light and fluffy. The key is to not peek into the pan while the dumplings are cooking. The dumplings need to gently steam in the simmering stew to result in a light texture. Using cake flour in place of all purpose flour will also help the dumplings be lighter, as cake flour has less gluten than regular flour.
To coax more flavor into the stew base, we brown the chicken pieces before cooking them in the stew, and we also create a roux by browning flour in the rendered chicken fat, before slowly adding liquid.
Chicken and Vegetables:
- 3 to 3 1/2 pounds chicken thighs and breast parts, skin-on, bone-in, trimmed of excess fat
- 2 teaspoons butter or olive oil, or a combination of both
- 1 quart chicken stock (homemade is best)
- 2 to 3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 cup dry sherry or vermouth (optional)
- 1 Tbsp of heavy cream (optional)
- 3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
- Ground black or white pepper
- 2 cups (250 g) cake flour (can sub all-purpose flour, but use cake flour if you have it, your dumplings will be fluffier)
- 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 Heat the chicken stock to a gentle simmer in a medium pot.
2 In a large (8 qt), thick-bottomed pot, heat the butter or olive oil over medium-high heat. Pat dry the chicken pieces and sprinkle with salt. Working in batches, brown the chicken pieces, placing the pieces skin-side down first; this will render out fat you will use to build the stew later.
3 Once the chicken pieces are browned on all sides, remove them from the large pot, and turn off the heat. Remove and discard the skin from the chicken pieces and put the chicken pieces into the pot of simmering stock. Poach the chicken in the stock until cooked through, about 20 minutes or so. Remove the chicken pieces and set on a tray to cool for a few minutes. When the chicken pieces are cool to touch, pull the meat off the bones and cut into 2-inch chunks. Set aside.
4 Return the heat on the large pot to medium-high. When the pot is hot, add the onion, celery, carrot and thyme and sauté until soft, but not browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add the flour and stir well. The flour will absorb the fat in the pot and will stick a little to the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir the flour vegetable mixture constantly for 2-3 minutes. Do not let it burn.
5 Get a ladle ready and have the pot of simmering chicken stock nearby. Add the sherry to the flour vegetable mixture. It will sputter and seize up. Add a ladle of hot chicken stock to and stir well. It will be goopy. Add another ladle, then another, stirring all the while, until the broth comes together. Add the rest of the chicken stock, the reserved chicken meat. Increase the heat and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer while you make the dumplings.
6 Make the dumpling batter by whisking 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 wooden spoon until mixture just comes together. (Note: do not overmix! or your dumplings will turn out too dense.)
7 Drop dumpling batter into the simmering stew by heaping teaspoonfuls, over the surface of the stew. (Note that the dumplings will easily double in size as they cook.) Cover and simmer until dumplings are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Once you have covered the pan, do not uncover and peek while the dumplings are cooking! In order for the dumplings 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.
8 Gently stir in peas, parsley and cream, if using. Add more salt to taste. Ladle portions of meat, sauce, vegetables, and dumplings into soup plates and serve. Note that the stew will continue to thicken the longer it sits.