Saturday, February 12, 2011

Repurposing Leftovers: Chicken and Cut Dumplings

I have a love/hate relationship with dumplings, both the Northern (gobs of slack dough dropped on top of a simmering stew and steamed into light, fluffy wads of deliciousness) and Southern (stiffer dough rolled thin and sliced into broad squares, then dropped into a soup and boiled to tender, noodley goodness) kinds. 

I adore them both, but dang, they can be problematic. 

Northern dumplings are a topic for another time, however; this week I hankered for the Southern kind, and there was a chicken carcass with a fair amount of meat left over from Sunday’s dinner; though this was really about using up that chicken, I'm going to focus on the dumplings.

My earliest and probably best memory of cut (or flat or rolled, depending on where you grew up) dumplings was watching Ann Hemp prepare them.  Ann Hemp was one of the women in the rural Shenandoah Valley church where my father was briefly the pastor, and she was the quintessential farm wife.  She whipped up a batch for chicken and dumplings – no recipe, no measurements, flour everywhere – and my pre-adolescent self thought 1) they were the most delicious thing I’d ever put in my mouth and 2) someday I wanted to cook like that.

My many attempts at "authentic" recipes produced dumplings that are hit or miss - just as likely to be gummy, gooey, chewy or dense as not.  Eventually I arrived at this combination of ingredients, which results in reliably tender, puffy, satisfying dumplings. 

Start by mixing together two cups of flour, two teaspoons baking powder, and half a teaspoon of salt.  Cut in 1/3 cup shortening.

 Combine an egg with enough buttermilk to equal half a cup. 
Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix... 

...until just combined.  Add additional buttermilk, a tablespoon or so at a time, if required. 
  My helper.  Once a scavenger, always a scavenger.
Turn the dough out on a well-floured surface and knead a few turns, until it's smooth.  Avoid over-handling the dough.     
Gratuitous gadget plug:  flour wand. Love. It.
Roll the dough out to 1/8" thickness.  Keep the work surface and the top of the dough well-floured - extra flour on the dumplings' surface will keep them from sticking and also thicken the stew.

Cut into rough squares or rectangles.  (Perfect Martha Stewart dumplings these are not.)

This will make a good many dumplings.  If you're going to make dumplings, make lots, say I.

 Drop the dumplings one at a time into boiling soup, stirring constantly.

Cover tightly and boil for 8-10 minutes.


...try to wait a few minutes before eating it or you will scorch your tongue. 

I hate that.

Chicken and Cut Dumplings

1 meaty carcass and reserved pan juices from a roast chicken
4 tablespoons butter
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 bay leaves
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

For the dumplings:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
1 egg plus enough buttermilk to equal 1/2 cup (plus additional buttermilk if required)

Bone the chicken carcass; coarsely chop and reserve the meat.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent.

Place vegetables and chicken bones in a 6-quart slow cooker.  Add two bay leaves and enough water to submerge the bones.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour or so.

Add reserved chicken meat along with pan juices, red pepper flakes, parsley and thyme.  Increase heat and bring to an enthusiastic boil.

Prepare the dumplings:  combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl.  Cut in shortening until mixture is the texture of coarse crumbs.  Blend egg and buttermilk and stir into dry ingredients; mix until it just holds together.  Turn onto a well-floured work surface and knead briefly, until the dough forms a smooth ball.  Roll to 1/8" thickness and cut into 1 x 1 1/2" (more or less) rectangles.  Drop into boiling soup, stirring constantly.  Cover tightly and boil for 8-10 minutes.

Correct seasonings and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Yield:  a lot.

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