Whether we hail from the great frozen north or were raised in the Deep South, we all have warm feelings for chicken and dumplings. People disagree about the dumplings, but it’s just ‘cause each one of us loves our mama and we think her chicken and dumplings are the best. It’s ok; we’re allowed to like it all, but for this blog post, let’s just say that pastry is flat and dumplings are fat. If you add peas and carrots to chicken and dumplings, you are straying into pot pie territory, but that’s just me.
But it’s all good. Your mama’s can be the best and you can still enjoy all your friends’ mamas’ recipes too.
Here in Mexico, the ingredients for chicken and dumplings are readily available. Traditional Mexican dishes feature corn flour rather than wheat flour, so this was hubby’s first taste of chicken and dumplings. (To my Southern sisters, yes I know, smh.) He did what a lot of us do after eating chicken and dumplings on a Sunday afternoon. He had a good long nap. He says he understands now why we call it comfort food.
If you’re a non-Southerner looking to sample some Southern dishes, websites like Southern Living magazine, have wonderful recipes ranging from simple to gourmet. There are lots of Southern cookbooks available online from shopping sites like Amazon. And although a lot of born and bred Southerners don’t consider Florida “Southern”, which is a topic for a different day, if you‘re looking for Floridian recipes, try here.
If you grew up in the rural south like I did, your knowledge of southern country cooking came from the women around you, the great cooks in your family, in your church, in your community, and you learned by doing because most of that knowledge was not written down anywhere. I remember Ms. Louise, a beloved family matriarch in my mama’s church who made Sunday dinner for her family every week until the last days of her life. And if you were within hollerin’ distance, you got invited to come along as a guest and be treated to real country cooking. My favorite was her chicken and pastry. I don’t know if anyone in her family has her recipe, or even if she used a recipe, but I’m sure it won’t be half as good if you don’t sing “Love Lifted Me” while you’re cooking it like she did. [This sounds more like home to me when I play it at 3/4 speed!]
But, like I said in the beginning, everybody’s mama’s recipe is the best, and while I loved Ms. Louise’s chicken and pastry, my mama made fluffy biscuit-like dumplings, and that’s my favorite, and that’s what I’m doing today. It’s not her recipe per se, just her way of doing it, mostly. We didn’t really use recipes.
***This dish must be served IMMEDIATELY!! If you want the dumplings to stay fluffy, wait until time to serve before making them. Leftovers taste great, but the dumplings will be firm, not fluffy.
You can use rotisserie chicken if you like, canned broth, caldo de pollo (bouillon), canned biscuits, Bisquick, more or less onion and garlic, other veggies, whole milk, evaporated milk and water or broth. whatever. Make it yours. If you’re doing Paleo or Keto or Atkins or South Beach or any other carb restrictive eating plan, I’m so sorry you can’t partake in this carb-fest, but you might try alternate flours for the dumplings or pastry like nut flours or breadfruit flour. I love breadfruit, but I can’t get breadfruit flour here.
Prep time: 20 minutes (or an hour if you have to remove a lot of pinfeathers like I did!)
Cooking time: three hours or longer
Serves six large portions
- One whole chicken or your favorite parts (~2 pounds)
- One large onion, peeled and quartered
- 6-8 large cloves of garlic, or more if you like
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4-6 quarts of water
- 2 cups plain flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/3 cup lard, shortening, or butter
- 3/4 to one cup whole milk
You can buy a whole chicken and cut it up like I did, or just breasts for a white meat dish, or legs and thighs for a less expensive but incredibly flavorful dish. If you don’t know how to cut up a chicken, here’s a video from Gordon Ramsey.
He can cut up a chicken in less than two minutes. Thanks for teaching me how to do this, Mama! It usually takes me about five minutes, but this time I was working with a freshly butchered hen from our local meat shop, so I spent a good thirty minutes cleaning pinfeathers.
I saved the thighs and legs for another meal because there are only two of us, and put everything else in a large stockpot with the onion and garlic. You can add chunks of celery and carrot to the stock for extra flavor if you like. Add enough water so that the level is twice as deep as your chicken and veggies. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium and cook at a steady, gentle boil until the chicken is falling off the bone, about two hours. Some recipes use only the breast and call for adding canned broth. If you include the giblets, the back, and the neck, you don’t need it.
When the chicken is thoroughly cooked, strain the broth and return to the stockpot. You can cook down the broth to intensify the flavors if you like, but I chose to set aside two quarts of broth in mason jars to use later in the week. If you added carrots and celery, you can set those aside to add back later or toss them in the compost pail.
Remove the meat from the carcass and set aside. Now comes another personal choice. Take the garlic and onion pieces, the giblets, skin, and cartilage (gasp! but only if you want to), and blend together with two cups of broth until completely smooth. Pour this mixture back into the remaining broth, return to a full rolling boil, add back the chicken, and reduce the heat. The idea is to have the heat just below the boiling point so that you have the hottest temp for cooking the dumplings and a gentle, barely there boil so that the dumplings aren’t destroyed.
Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. I use my fingers for the next part, but you can use a fork or spoon or spatula if you want. Cut in the shortening, butter, or lard, whichever suits your budget and taste. Make a mountain, and then make a well and pour in about a third of the milk. Gently and gradually, sweep the dry ingredients into the liquid, adding more liquid as needed, until you have incorporated all the flour into a dough stiff enough not to fall off an upside down spoon.
Drop the dough by spoonfuls into the simmering broth, waiting a few seconds in between so they don’t stick together. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve immediately!