Getting Grounded With Chicken & Dumplings
The planet Mercury is in retrograde for most of this month, and as my astrologer friend Stephanie tells me, the notorious planetary configuration isn’t just about misfires on the communication highway or misunderstandings with your nearest and dearest; it’s also a great time for “reflection and heightened inner awareness.”
Whether or not you groove to the tune of astrology, you’ve probably experienced bouts of extreme unsettledness that feel like an eight-lane traffic jam in your head and your heart, a time when you don’t know if you’re coming or going, and all you can see is the dust flying around your head. It’s been so chaotic here at the Casa I can hardly remember my name.
When I set out last week to recreate New Orleans chef Donald Link’s recipe for chicken and dumplings, my objective was pragmatic: To check for recipe accuracy and quality. A means to an end. Little did I know that I’d be captured by kitchen fairies who would succeed in bringing me out of my dust cloud and plant both my feet on the floor.
The afternoon started like many. I pulled ingredients from the fridge and began to pull together my mise en place. I chopped, I measured, I stirred. Dumpling batter went into the fridge for some chillax time.
As I cleared way to make the stew, something happened at the stove. Suddenly, I was no longer doing a task; I was doing a dance, sashaying my way around a skillet of flour-coated chicken that was doing its own kind of waltz, the oil gently gurgling beneath. I was captivated, no longer thinking about any of my to-do lists or concerns. And this stew, it was coming to life. Now came the chopped aromatics and vegetables, which sweetened as they softened in the hot pan. Within a few minutes, they would swim in some wine, then surrender to a swampy roux. As I stood over the pan, I realized that just like the vegetables, I had surrendered, too. I felt light inside, but for the first time in weeks, I felt both feet on the floor.
I’m no doctor, but I got a good feeling about this one.
P.S. A weeknight dish this is not; this is slow food, baby. Do it over the long holiday weekend should your grill plans go up in smoke.
Chicken and Dumplings
From “Real Cajun” by Donald Link
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Scant teaspoon each of ground black pepper and salt
1 large egg
½ small onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup milk
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces (KOD: I cut out the back, made stock, used wings, thighs and legs, froze the breasts. Supplemented with 2 additional thighs.)
1 tablespoon salt, to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme leaves
½ cup dry white wine
1/3 cup (2/3 stick) unsalted butter
2 quarts (8 cups) chicken broth/stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces cremini mushrooms (KOD: Because of my allergy, I substituted equal amounts cauliflower, which worked great.)
To prepare dumplings, whisk together flour, baking powder, oregano, cayenne, black pepper and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, onion, melted butter and milk. Using a fork, stir wet ingredients into dry just until blended – do not overmix. When you scoop up a spoonful of batter and turn spoon on its side, batter should fall off slowly. If not, add a few more tablespoons of flour. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
To make the stew, place flour in a large bowl. Season chicken with salt, pepper and cayenne (KOD: I highly recommend combining the three in a small dish to ensure even coverage.). Add chicken to bowl and toss with flour until evenly coated.
Heat oil in a large, deep skillet (KOD: I used a wok) over medium-high heat. When skillet is hot but not smoking, add chicken in batches, so as not to overcrowd the pan. Reserve remaining dredging flour.
Cook until chicken is golden brown on both sides, using tongs to turn. Remove from pan and drain off half of the remaining oil. Add onion, celery, carrot, chile, garlic and thyme (I needed an additional ½ teaspoon of clean oil, by the way), seasoning with salt, pepper and cayenne. Cook, stirring, until veggies are tender, about 8 minutes. Add wine, wait 20 seconds, then add butter, stirring until it melts. Add flour ad stir until veggies are evenly coated. Add chicken broth/stock to the pan and bring to a simmer.
If using mushroom, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a separate medium skillet over medium-high heat. When skillet is hot but not smoking, sauté half of the mushrooms until crisp and brown, 4-5 minutes. Add cooked mushrooms to vegetable mixture and repeat process with remaining oil and mushrooms. (KOD: I bypassed this step and added small cauliflower floret into the vegetable mixture, without sautéing.)
Return chicken to stew and simmer for about 1 hour, 15 minutes, occasionally skimming excess fat that rises) until chicken is fork-tender but before falling off its bones.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Transfer stew to a large ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven and return to a simmer over medium heat. With two tablespoons, use one to scoop ovals of dumpling batter, the other to scrape off the first spoon and drop atop the stew.
Bake uncovered until dumplings are lightly golden (but not overly dry), about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve in shallow bowls.
Makes 6 servings.
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