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Chicken and Dumplings

OK, you're finally getting my all-time favorite, ultimate comfort food recipe.  Be warned, however, that it is also labor-intensive, but totally worth it.  For the ultimate experience, you'll want to pay attention to the following, in order of importance:
1.  A cold day, preferably snowing or storming (this is definitely not a warm-weather dish).
2.  A day when you have a block of time with no deadlines and no stress, so you can just enjoy being in the kitchen (it turns out better with the love flowing).
3.  Make sure you have the ingredients you need on hand so you don't have to run to the store in the midst of making it (see #1).
4.  An evening coming up (not necessarily the day you make it) with family or close friends invited who love honest, simple, delicious homemade food and will appreciate your efforts (optional if you hate entertaining).

I have made this recipe for years and given it out numerous times.  I adapted it the first time (pre-GF) from a recipe I found in a magazine. That version was more casserole-y, with the chicken still on the bone in pieces, which I thought was weird because it was so hard and messy to eat.  So I changed that and a few other things that I'll explain later.  It became an immediate family favorite, and is usually what we have for Christmas Eve dinner (made a day or two in advance, when I can manage it--thank goodness it keeps well).  When we found out about Ron's allergy to wheat, I was determined to adapt it again so that we could continue to enjoy it -- it was impossible to imagine our lives without ever having chicken and dumplings again!  It took a few tries, at least for the dumplings, before it was back to its previous status as #1 fav.  I hope it becomes one of your family favorites as well. 

Chicken and Dumplings (makes enough for 12 generous servings)

5 lbs chicken breasts and thighs, skinned, or 2 whole chickens cut into pieces
6 Cups thickly sliced carrots
6 Cups thickly chopped onions
3 Cups thickly sliced celery
13 Cups water
6 cans Swanson's chicken broth
Bouquet garni:  3 Tbsp dried parsley, 1 large bay leaf, 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp rosemary, 1-1/2 tsp crushed peppercorns or coarse ground pepper.  The traditional way to make a bouquet garni is to put the ingredients in a couple layers of cheesecloth, and tie it with string.  I rarely have cheesecloth on hand, so I use a large spice ball.  The picture below shows 2 spice balls with a teaspoon in the foreground so you can get an idea of the size.  I most often use the one on the right, as you can tell from its beat-up appearance :).  Incidentally, large spice balls like these also work great for the spices used in spiced cider (I'll be sharing my favorite recipe for that soon!)

Cook chicken in 10 cups of the water.  Boil, skimming often, until chicken is cooked through.  Remove chicken from water and keep broth.  If you use whole chickens, you will, of course, have to remove the meat from the bones, which is more work.  Using skinned boneless chicken breasts and thighs speeds things along a little.  After it cools, cut into bite-sized chunks.

Cook the veggies in 3 Cups water, canned chicken broth and bouquet garni.  When veggies are done, remove bouquet garni and vegetables from broth.  Keep broth

While the meat and vegetables are cooking, mix up the dumplings:

6 Tbsp shortening
2 eggs
2/3 Cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 Cup rice flour
2/3 Cup potato starch flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2-3 Tbsp dried parsley

Beat the shortening and egg together.  Whisk the dry ingredients together.  Stir in the buttermilk alternately with the dry ingredients.  Do not overbeat.  This will be a fairly stiff dough.  Set aside.

3 cubes (1-1/2 Cups) butter
2 Cups brown or white rice flour
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp ground pepper

In very large stock pot, melt butter.  Add flour, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes.  Pour in 16 cups of the reserved veggie and chicken broth.  If you need additional, add water to make the 16 cups.  Stir until thickened.  Bring to a boil; lower heat until gravy is at a good simmer that is producing steam.  Drop dumplings by heaping tablespoonfuls into hot gravy.  Only put in as many as can fit comfortably, not touching each other.  Cover with tight lid and steam for 10 minutes.  Do not lift the lid while cooking dumplings.  It is the steam that cooks the dumplings.  You can test for doneness in the normal way - with a wooden toothpick.  They will be coated in gravy, but should be done in the center like biscuits.  Remove dumplings from broth and put in your next batch.  Keep cooked dumplings warm on an oven-proof plate in the oven.

Here's what they look like when done.  They aren't real attractive, but it won't matter.  Keep reading!

When all the dumplings are cooked, add the veggies and cut-up chicken back into the gravy, stirring well.  Lower heat. 

To serve, put a dumpling in the bottom of a bowl and ladle the chicken stew on top. 

Note:  Don't be tempted to put the veggies and chicken into the gravy before cooking the dumplings.  The veggies and meat will sink to the bottom and burn while the dumplings are cooking. Getting the gravy hot enough to produce the steam necessary to cook the dumplings without burning on the bottom is the trickiest part.  If you discover that the gravy has stuck and burned some on the bottom, don't panic.  Just transfer the gravy into another large pot, without scraping the burnt part with it, then add your vegetables and meat into the gravy and reheat at a low temperature.  The veggies and meat are usually still pretty warm and the gravy is hot, so it doesn't take long at all to get it to eating temperature.

There it is -- total comfort in a bowl.  And as an added bonus, your house will smell divine! 

For my gluten-eating followers, just use regular flour instead of the rice flour in the soup part, and here's the original recipe for the dumplings:

3 Cups flour
1-1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
15 Tbsp milk
2-3 Tbsp dried parsley

Mix dry ingredients and parsley in a bowl.  Mix milk and eggs together.  Add to dry ingredients and mix until just blended.  Dough will be sticky.  Proceed as directed above.

1 comment:

  1. I can testify to the goodness of this recipe. I'm not even gluten intolerant. This is the epitome of comfort food and is perfect for company. The gravy is rich and delicious, and I love having the dumplings on the bottom of the dish. Try it! It's delightful:) Thanks Michele for sharing this recipe.