Friday, June 25, 2010

Chicken and Dumplings

Cracker Barrel may be a despicable corporate entity: racist, sexist, homophobic, abusive of their workers, and pretty much a canonical instance of the faux-friendly jes-plain-folks Disney fake of actual human-to-human contact - but their chicken and dumplings hits my comfort-food sweet spot. When I'm on the road and I have the time for a sit-down meal I've been known to bite down hard on my principles, stop there and order some. And overtip the waitron.

So when I got a hankering for some chicken and dumplings, I canvassed the internet and quickly found a recipe that claimed to be theirs or as near as matters. I made it a couple of times and it is very very close to what you get in the restaurant. But I also realized that when you're not on a long and lonesome highway the comfort-food aspect is not so compelling, and it can definitely be improved. So I'm going to reproduce the recipe here and annotate it as prepared this evening.

Here we go:

3 quarts water
1 3-4 pound chicken cut up
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 small large onion sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered smashed and minced
1 t garlic powder
1 bay leaf
4-6 whole parsley leaves
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice


2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

Get a little oil very hot in a large pot and sear the chicken. Add water to cover and bring Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the chicken, 1 teaspoon of salt, onion, celery, garlic powder, bay leaf, and parsley to the pot. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook the chicken, uncovered, for 2 hours. The liquid will reduce by about one third.

Tonight I replaced part of the water with leftover egg drop corn soup.

When the chicken has cooked, remove it from the pot and set it aside. Strain the stock to remove all the vegetables and floating scum. You only want the stock and the chicken, so toss everything else out.

Pour 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) of the stock back into the pot (keep the leftover stock, if any, for another recipe-it can be frozen). You may also want to use a smaller pot or a large saucepan for this. Add coarsely ground pepper, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt to taste, and the lemon juice, then reheat the stock over medium heat while preparing the dumplings.

For dumplings, combine the flour, baking powder, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and milk in a medium bowl. Stir well until smooth, then let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, coarsely chop the onion and celery and saute it in a little oil over medium-high heat, adding the garlic as it starts to soften. Saute, tossing frequently, until the onions start to caramelize.

Roll the dough out onto a floured surface to about a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut the dough into 1/2 inch squares and drop each square into the simmering stock. Use all of the dough. The dumplings will first swell and then slowly shrink as they partially dissolve to thicken the stock into a white gravy. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until thick. Stir often.

While the stock is thickening, the chicken will have become cool enough to handle. Tear all the meat from the bones and remove the skin. Cut the chicken meat into bite-size or a little bigger than bite-size pieces and drop them into the pot, also adding the sauteed vegetables. Discard the skin and bones. Continue to simmer the chicken and dumplings for another 5-10 minutes, but don't stir too vigorously or the chicken will shred and fall apart. You want big chunks of chicken in the end.

Makes 8-10 servings.

1 comment:

  1. Looks kinda disgusting, but chicken and dumplings is a comfort food for me as well. Only thing is, I've never eaten any at a restaurant that suits me. Then again, I haven't eaten at Cracker Barrel since I learned of the various corporate policies.

    And see, people can get downright belligerent on the subject of puffy dumplings vs. thin and tender dumplings. To me, those fat things taste like undercooked, doughy flour. Give me the thin and tender babies.

    I'd quit making chicken and dumplings years back because I really hated rolling out the dumplings. So one day, I'm at my Mom's, she's making chicken and dumplings, and she's tearing up flour tortillas for the dumplings - sacrilege! I squawked at her that her mother would have had a cow over that. She just died laughing and asked me where did I think SHE had gotten the idea. So, chicken and dumplings got added back to things I was willing to cook.

    Besides the flour tortillas, I've found bone in with skin chicken breast works beautifully. It's a big more expensive, but much easier to get pulled off the bone and chopped up. You want the bone and skin for the broth - boneless chicken does squat for a tasty broth. I boil mine with celery and onion, but I scoop most of it out so my final product is that lovely broth, tender dumplings and chicken. The veggies I scoop out I freeze and add to dressing later one. Works for me!