Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I'll make my own, thanks.

     Have you ever walked through a grocery store and saw something that, just by name alone, should be utterly satisfying. Example: chicken and dumplings. Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and satisfied? While doing the monthly pilgrimage to the local grocery store I had one those experiences.
     I was traveling down the soup isle and saw a large, blue can of soup labeled "Chicken and Dumplings". Now, I know I should know better than to expect the fond memories of my Gramma Marshal's chicken and dumplings to be found in a can but I couldn't stop myself. I had an immeasurable craving for those dumplings. The firm yet chewy texture. The amazing homemade broth. The massive chunks of chicken and vegetables. Like a Homer Simpson kinda moment. So I lifted The Can and gently placed it right next to the eggs and bread at the top of the cart so it could be protected. While at the checkout, and against the bagger's advice, I asked that The Can be bagged with the bread so it would receive special treatment. When I arrived home, I brought The Can into house, retrieved it from the bag and tossed aside my freshly smashed bread.
     I opened The Can.
     I poured the contents into my soup pot.
     I saw....something not completely right. The dumplings were small. Like "the size of an almond" small. "Well," I thought to myself. "Maybe they'll expand as they cook."
     Also, the smell was off. Instead of the aroma of chicken, celery, carrots, and onions, I smelled....nothing with a touch of metallic something. "Maybe that will right itself during cooking as well," I hoped.
     Once heated to just the right temperature, I poured the concoction into a bowl and sat down to enjoy it. While the dumplings had not gotten any bigger the smell had gotten significantly better. I was thinking that maybe this will be OK after all. I spooned that first bite up, closed my eyes, emptied the spoon on to my waiting taste buds, and waited for greatness.
     And waited....
     And waited some more.
     There was no greatness to be found. What was found was mushy vegetables, flavorless broth, stringy particles of what may or may not have been chicken, and bland bits of dough that I can assume to be a poor attempt at dumplings.
     So instead of awesomeness, I managed to locate feelings of emptiness and disappointment. But those feelings passed quickly. I was now determined to right this wrong. I was motivated. I was dedicated. I was...hungry. And I wanted chicken and dumplings.
     I gathered all my ingredients, found my grandma's recipe and got started. What came out of that pot at the end of the cooking process can only be described as what I like to call "Awesome Sauce". Even Sean liked it! So my friends: I present to you a recipe for chicken and dumplings. It'll warm you up on a chilly day and satisfy you any other day. Also, it's guaranteed not to make you question your shopping decisions. Enjoy.

Photo by Heidi Shepherd

Ingredients and directions

2-2 1/2 lbs Chicken parts (You can use boneless, skinless but whole pieces will add a deeper flavor)
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 bunch thyme
1 bay leaf 

 1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Large onion, chopped
2 Carrots, peeled and sliced

1 Cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
3 Cloves finely chopped garlic



2 Cups all-purpose flour  
1 Tbs baking powder
1 Cup heavy cream
2 Tbs salted butter
1 tsp dried parsley leaves 

1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a very large saucepan or Dutch oven, add chicken, chicken broth, thyme, and bay leaf to cover. Turn on heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. *Note: You can poach the chicken on a low simmer and start with cold stock so the chicken cooks evenly or I like to throw it all in a crock pot so it cooks low and slow in its' own juices. Once the chicken is cooked, transfer to a separate dish and let cool. Reserve broth and toss out the thyme and bay leaf. Shred the chicken once it has cooled. Use your hands or a fork and make sure to get all the meat off the bone. Discard the skin and bones.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and pepper, to taste into a large bowl. In a medium saucepan, bring heavy cream, butter and herbs to a low simmer then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until well combined. Use your hands to form the dough into dumplings and set to the side. 

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat and add oil. Once oil is hot, add onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Saute until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add reserved broth to Dutch oven with vegetables and add the chicken. Bring to a low simmer. Add dumplings one at a time into the simmering soup. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste, if necessary.

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