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.”


(Kim O'Donnel)

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.

Sylvia, right?

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

Ingredients
Dumplings
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

Chicken Stew
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.)

Method
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.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 19, 2009; 7:30 AM ET Chicken/Poultry , Kitchen Musings
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Comments

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Oh, no no no. Chicken and dumplings is NOT chicken topped with biscuits and baked!! The dumplings are supposed to be soft, simmered gently in the broth until they are cooked through. And onions in them? Seriously? It's not a hush puppy! And you need milk or cream to add to the broth at the end to give it that creamy goodness. I'm sure this is very yummy, but it's not chicken and dumplings!

Here's my favorite chicken and dumplings recipe:

Salt and pepper chicken parts, dredge in flour (note: I use bone-in for flavor). Brown in oil; remove chicken, and drain excess oil. Add chopped onion, celery, and carrots and saute until slightly browned and soft. Add @ 6 c water or stock and stir up all the bits. Add chicken back and simmer for @ 1 hr. In the meantime, mix together 1 1/2 c. flour, 2 t. baking powder, 1/2 t. salt, and 1 t. chopped parsley (optional). Cut in 3 T. shortening (I use butter for flavor). Slowly stir in 3/4 c. milk. Let sit.

If you want, remove and bone chicken. Mix together 1/2 c. milk with @ 5 T flour and a little stock. Stir slowly into pot. Add chicken back. Drop dumplings in by heaping tablespoons and simmer for @ 20 mins.


Posted by: laura33 | May 19, 2009 8:24 AM

and let the debate begin.

kim, this is a lovely share of how you got out of your funk. it really is amazing, isn't it? i was positively blah yesterday, then my salsa-marinated, cast iron skillet "seared" then oven finished chicken actually worked (not as well as i'd hoped, but...), filling the non-balconied and therefore non-grill-equipped with a lovely grill smell. hubby walked in to "smells so good, i could smell it all the way from the elevator"

and this on a concept of recipe he'd "poo-pooed" (he doesn't like cooked tomatoes - or so he thinks)

anyway, thanks, as always, for sharing!

ps - think you could do this w/ whole wheat flour?

Posted by: alisoncsmith | May 19, 2009 8:37 AM

Yum. We'll have to give this a try, especially with the cauliflower variation. I would beg to differ with laura33 as dumplings in or on appears to depend on ones traditions (looked through a few references to make sure of this). Still, glad to have the added perspective.

Slightly off topic (OK, more than slightly)... we made panisse again last Tuesday in honor of my mother-in-law's visit. It's hard to make it through a batch of these and so we wound up with leftovers. Turns out that reheating them in a toaster oven and toasting at the end brings them back. Incidentally, I found a very similar Italian food called panelle when leafing through my favorite Italian cookbook for ideas. Similar concept, but the ratio of water to flour is about 3:1. So, they spread out a bit more and have a texture more akin to sliced polenta. The good news (for fat reduction) is that they can be fried in the pan with a little olive oil. It's a popular street food in Palermo to have these in a bun. Delish!

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/mighty-appetite/2009/04/super_fly_fries.html

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 19, 2009 10:01 AM

Hey laura33, thanks for sharing your version for dumplings! In the headnotes of this recipe, Donald Link writes that he's tried many different versions of this recipe, and this is one that he loves. The chopped onion is minced so fine it practically melts into the dumpling dough, and I gotta tell ya, the flavor is out of sight. Here, no cream or milk is necessary; the roux is so buttery I think you'd agree. Remember, this is just one version of chicken 'n' dumplings, not the only one!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 19, 2009 10:53 AM

Ah, to be back in the land of Joy of Food. I spent a long weekend with folks who think food is merely sustanence, and fussing over a special meal a sign of anxiety. Thanks, Kim, for sharing your story and recipe.

Regarding the dumpling debate, we define them based on our earliest experience of bread-y lumps on stew-y meals. Simmered, baked, on vegetables, chicken or meat, dumplings are whatever Mom called them. Our perceptions are entirely based on our experience, however wide or limited it may be. Reminds me of my guy who thought lasagne was a traditional Norweigian dish, because that's what his Mom made for special holidays and celebrations in his extended Norweigian family.

Posted by: esleigh | May 19, 2009 10:58 AM

BB, Thanks for your notes about the chickpea fries! Love this.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 19, 2009 10:59 AM

and thank you, esleigh, for your insights. By the way, you can stop by the kitchen anytime...

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 19, 2009 11:01 AM

Yay, alisoncsmith! I think you could prob substitute white wheat flour. Have you ever worked with it? It's the lighter, white white versus the typical super-hearty red wheat. Really nice.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 19, 2009 11:04 AM

I haven't tried whole wheat in dumplings, but I love it in biscuits. I substitute regular whole wheat flour for part of the white (1/4 - 1/3) and it gives a lovely taste and tooth to the biscuits. While not heavy, they wouldn't be confused with "angel biscuits".

BTW, thyme is a great herb for the home garden - even in the NE, this stuff winters over, and when I'm weeding, my cat likes to lie down on the mulch and rest her head on the thyme. The cuteness keeps me going.

Posted by: fran426 | May 19, 2009 12:36 PM

For those who need more visuals, there's a nice piece in last months BHG. Scott Peacock, of Indigo Girls' Watershed fame, has been doing step-by-steps of all of the classic American cooking techniques. He makes dumplings look as easy as opening a box of pasta. Provided, of course, you have a 10'X10' work surface!!

Posted by: 12thManTrainingTable | May 19, 2009 1:10 PM

12thManTrainingTable, I'm a big fan of Scott Peacock's work. Thanks for this tip!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 19, 2009 1:27 PM

I'm a big fan of Chicken and Dumplings- it's definitely comes under the title of "comfort food" to me. There is a recipe for Savory Chicken Cobbler in Baking Basics and Beyond (by Pat Sinclair, Surrey Books 2006) that is easily done on a weeknight. It has a biscuit topping also. Since I start with cooked chicken, I often purchase a roast chicken at the supermarket and make it in a flash.

Posted by: Bakersinclair | May 20, 2009 12:58 PM

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