Growing up in Ohio, Sunday dinner meant one thing to me: Granny's Chicken & Dumplings, a warm and hearty stew made of the simplest ingredients of flour, chicken, salt and pepper. A staple in the Midwest and South, chicken and dumplings is about as comforting as a comfort food can get. It seems to be something born of hard times, when only the bare necessities were on-hand to make a meal for a crowd.
As a child, I watched my grandmother roll out dumpling and make quick work of cutting out dumplings into little bite-sized squares. Her knife skills would put even the Top Chef Masters to shame. I often helped knead the dough, standing on a chair to put my whole body into the process of shaping and rolling the dough into a ball, then using a rolling pin to flatten it out. Granny coached me through it, making sure my dumplings were not too lumpy or too thick. Making dumplings was better than play-doh for keeping little hands busy.
Granny didn't use a recipe, so for the longest time I had only a vague idea of how to make chicken and dumplings. My mother showed me how to make it, using the "eyeball it and throw things in until it tastes right" method. My brother Mike is a chef, and he coached me through turning it into a real recipe a few years ago. The recipe that follows is an approximation of what you need to make Chicken & Dumplings, just like Granny used to make. The original recipe only uses salt and pepper for seasoning. I've added some chicken stock base and herbs for extra flavor.
12 c water
3 bone-in chicken breasts
2 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
2-3 leaves of fresh sage (optional)
1 packet Knorr Homestyle Condensed Chicken Stock (optional)
Salt & Pepper to taste
6 c + 1 c Gold Medal Self-Rising Flour
1 c water
1 t dried sage (optional)
1 t dried thyme (optional)
1 T salt
1 T black pepper
1. Make the Chicken Stock and Cook the Chicken
In a large stock pot, combine chicken breasts, thyme, sage, condensed stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 30-40 minutes. Remove chicken breasts and allow them to cool. Allow stock to continue to simmer to reduce.
2. Make the Dumplings
While the chicken is cooking, make the dumplings. In a large bowl, whisk together 6 cups of flour and the dried herbs. It is important that you use Self-Rising Flour so that your dumplings will be fluffy. Gold Medal is the brand we have always used.
Add water to the dry ingredients, and stir until the mixture starts to stick together. Mix with your hands, and add water as needed to form a ball. The dough should be about the size of a football. Work the dough until it forms a ball, but do not overwork it.
Flour a work surface to roll out the dough on. Cut the dough in half, and roll it out on the floured surface, until it is about 1/8 inch thick all the way through. The thinner the dumplings, the faster they will cook through.
Trim off the ragged edges to form a large rectangle, then cut the flattened dough into 1 inch squares. Place on a place to transfer to the stock. Repeat this with the second half of the dough.
3. Cook the Dumplings
Skim the stock for excess fat and remove the herbs from the pot. Place the dumplings in the pot one at a time. They will be crowded. Turn up the heat to medium, and bring to a boil. The dumplings will rise to the top and plump up, like they are trying to escape from the pot. When this happens, reduce the heat to low and cook for about an hour. Stir occasionally, making sure the dumplings don't stick to the bottom of the pan.
4. Shred the Chicken
While the dumplings are cooking, remove skin from the chicken breasts and shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl and set aside. Discard the bones & skin.
Note: my grandmother used a whole, cut-up fryer for this, and didn't shred the chicken, but allowed the pieces to stay intact. You can do this to save time.
5. Add Chicken
Add the shredded chicken to the pot, cover, and cook for an additional 20-30 minutes on low heat. If you like a creamier consistency, whisk together 1/2 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of flour in a small bowl. Add to the stock to thicken it. Cook until dumplings are tender, not chewy, and cooked through.
The basic recipe might be bland or unexciting to some palates, so you can always add your own touches: Mike adds a little Cayenne pepper to give it an extra kick; my Aunt Betty (always a radical) adds an egg to the dough to make it yellow. You can add some peas, carrots, celery or other vegetables to give it a fiber boost. My mom adds kimchi whenever she eats dumplings, for a little Korean flair. Serve with a salad and cornbread for an excellent, hearty meal.
If you don't have time to make everything from scratch, you can use ready-made chicken broth, any kind of cooked chicken, and canned biscuits rolled out for the dumplings. I've used some variation on these ingredients from time to time, and it all tastes pretty good.
I still miss the way Granny made it, and no matter how many times I've made it myself, it's just not the same. I think the secret ingredient that Granny always added was a little bit of love.