Real Chicken and Dumplings have got to be one of the best examples of good, Southern country cooking. It is creamy and comforting and one of those dishes that makes something from nothing with amazing results. There are undoubtedly as many ways to make Chicken and Dumplings as there are cooks who make it. The biggest debate is probably strips-of-dough dumplings or fluffy drop dumplings. I am a strip dumplings gal, so that’s what you will find here. I also prefer my Chicken and Dumplings a little creamy, not all broth, but still eaten with a spoon.
Let me be clear. Chicken and Dumplings are not difficult to make from scratch. Maybe a little involved, but not hard. And it can be done over a drawn-out period of time, or made in bulk so you have the ingredients on hand. I do not generally frown on shortcut recipes and time-saving tips, but it has to be said: Bought chicken broth, a rotisserie chicken and canned biscuits do not Chicken and Dumplings make. You really should try doing this from scratch. Making the stock is just 3 minutes of dropping the ingredients in a pot and 3 hours of unattended bubbling. You can make it days ahead and refrigerate, or freeze huge quantities. The dumplings whip up so quickly, and can be refrigerated for up to a day or frozen for months. You might consider making a double batch and freezing some to have on hand. And the last minute cooking and assembly is a cinch.
These dumplings are made with a bit of bacon grease, and that’s what really sets them apart and gives them real flavor. I keep a container of bacon grease in the kitchen at all times, not in an old coffee can like generations before me, but a nice little red airtight container. If you don’t keep bacon grease around regularly, then I just don’t know if I can help you. But you can cook up a few strips of bacon and let the grease cool and solidify. I keep my grease by the stove, but some people prefer to keep it in the fridge, which is fine, and will speed things up if you are cooking the bacon just for the grease. Now, you can just substitute more shortening for the grease, but you will really be missing out on taste.
Chicken and Dumplings
You are likely to have some stock and meat leftover, which I consider a bonus.
For the stock:
3 split bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
3 stalks celery
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, peeled and quartered
For the dumplings:
1 ½ cups self-rising flour
2 Tablespoons shortening
1 Tablespoon bacon grease, solidified
½ teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste
½ cup milk
Chicken fat from the stock
¼ cup flour
½ cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups shredded chicken meat
Place the chicken breasts, carrots, celery, garlic and onion in a large (5-quart) Dutch oven. Cover with water, filling the pot almost to the top. Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat to low, skim off any scum that rises and cover the pot. Simmer for 3 hours, removing the lid from the pot for the last 45 minutes of cooking. Remove the chicken breasts to a bowl, then strain the stock into another large bowl, discarding the vegetables. Wipe out the pot. Pour any accumulated broth that has accumulated in the bowl with the chicken back into the stock. Let the strained stock sit for at least 30 minutes, skim off the fat from the top and place back in the Dutch oven. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the chicken breasts and shred to bite sized pieces. You can make the stock up to two days ahead and refrigerate covered with plastic wrap. It is then easier to skim off the solidified fat as well. Store the chicken meat in a zip-top bag until ready to use.
For the dumplings:
Measure the flour into a bowl and whisk in the salt and pepper. Cut the shortening and bacon grease into the flour with a fork or pastry cutter until crumbly. Add the milk and blend until a soft dough forms. Okay, that’s the traditional way to do it. I have found that pulsing the flour and fat in the food processor, then adding the milk to form a soft dough works just as well.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead 8 to 10 times to bring the dough together. Pat the dough into a rectangle, then roll out with a floured rolling pin to 1/8 inch thick. Cut the dough into strips about 1 inch long and ½ inch wide. These are dumplings, not wedding cake, so don’t worry about perfection. Place the cut dumplings on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet and refrigerate until ready to use. If refrigerating for more than a few hours, cover with waxed paper. The dumplings can also be frozen on the cookie sheet until firm and stored in freezer bags.
Heat the chicken fat from the stock in the Dutch oven. It should be at least ¼ cup. If not, add some oil to make up that amount. It will sizzle as any liquid stock left in cooks away. When the chicken fat is hot, sprinkle over the flour and whisk until smooth. Pour in the half-and half, whisking until smooth. Slowly pour in the chicken stock, whisking constantly until slightly thickened. Whisk in the poultry seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Drop in about 2 cups of shredded chicken. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and drop in the dumplings a few at a time, giving them a good stir to prevent sticking together. When all the dumplings have been added, cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so the dumplings don’t stick together.
Serve in bowls immediately.
Serves 6, or a really hungry family of 4