Get out of the way Granny Southern Chicken and Dumplings
Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Growing up as a little Viking down south, southern style chicken and dumplings was mostly something that I would hear tales of. Usually, it was my parents or some of their friends waxing nostalgic about grandma so and so’s kitchen and sighing deeply that they can’t have another bowl of that thick, creamy, savory goodness. Unfortunately for me, my parents didn’t take notes from their grandmas and I was a fully grown Viking before I had my first bowl of delicious southern style chicken and dumplings.
Regardless, several years back my mother came to visit me on a particularly cold and rainy weekend. I had a whole chicken and some veggies in my fridge. After a quick search of the internets for an appropriate cold weather meal, I decided to give homemade chicken and dumplings from scratch a shot. I had recently been working on perfecting my buttermilk biscuits (a point of pride from my southern roots and undoubtedly a future post) and was intrigued to find that the mythical fluffy dumplings bore a striking resemblance to biscuit dough.
Long story short, my mom went back for seconds. An almost unheard of occurrence for her.
Fair warning, this is not one of those “quick and easy dinner ideas.” You might want to reserve this for a weekend or some other time that you aren’t rushed. Plan on 2+ hours start to finish. But aren’t good things worth waiting for?
What’s the matter McFly...Chicken?!
Look, I know it’s a bit intimidating. But if you spend enough time in the kitchen, eventually you’ll need to learn how to break down a whole chicken. Whole chickens are usually less expensive and they also come with a backbone and giblets that can add a whole new level of flavor to your dishes. For extra chuckles, I recommend watching Julia Child man-handling poultry in old episodes of The French Chef.
But if today is not that day for you, have your butcher break down the bird. At bare minimum, make sure you buy some skin-on, bone-in chicken pieces. If you think you’re going to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts for this, stop. You’re gonna have a bad time.
A one pot wonder
Get out your heavy bottomed 6+ quart pot or dutch oven. Dishes won’t be super hard after dinner.
Part 1 Chicken wrangling
1 whole chicken broken down into 8 pieces with backbone and giblets reserved (4-5 lbs)
½ cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp neutral oil (peanut, canola, etc. NOT olive oil)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
First we need to get some color on the chicken and some fond in the bottom of the pot. Start by putting the flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
Dredge the chicken pieces and let them sit for a few minutes on a sheet tray.
Meanwhile, get your pot heating up over medium high heat. Add the butter and oil. Once the bubbles stop, start adding chicken a few pieces at a time, skin side down.
Now wait. Seriously wait. I know you might think you’re going to burn it if you don’t keep fiddling with it. But until you start seeing red juices come out of the top of the chicken pieces and the skin is a nice golden brown, wait. Your taste buds will thank you for your patience later.
Then give the chicken a quick flip on the other side to get some more color. Keep in mind that the goal is to get caramelization for flavor, not cook the chicken through. Have a big bowl ready to keep the browned chicken in. You’ll want to keep whatever juices run out of the chicken as it’s cooling. Once you’ve made it through all the pieces of chicken, it’s time to start building a soup. Oh, and don’t wipe out or wash the pot. You’ll need that.
Part 2 Let’s make soup
1-2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion
2-3 celery stalks
6 garlic cloves
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ cup flour
6 Cups of chicken stock
½ cup white wine
2 tbsp sugar
2-3 bay leaves
5-10 whole peppercorns
Time to chop up vegetables. No need to get into exhausting detail about how. You hopefully know what veggies look like in a soup: Not so small that they disappear into mush and not so big that they won’t fit on your favorite soup spoon. The garlic should be finely minced or smashed through a garlic press, if you’re into the whole brevity thing.
Also, I do subscribe to the fat is flavor school of cooking and strongly believe that a little more butter in the pan isn’t the worst idea you’ve had today. Add another tablespoon or two. Once melted, add the onions, carrots, and celery. Also go ahead and season with some salt and pepper. Season early and season often. Stir the delicious smelling contents of your pot periodically until the onions are translucent and the carrots are softened. The celery can take care of itself. I never really liked it anyway.
Right before you’re done cooking the veggies, stir in the garlic for a minute or two and then stir in the flour and keep stirring. Bonus points if you use the leftover seasoned flour from the chicken dredging. This will create a not very appetizing looking pasty mess. After a minute or two, we’re going to deglaze the pan with the white wine. Make sure you scrape up all the good little crusty bits on the bottom of the pan. This is where rich flavor is born.
Stir in the chicken stock, sugar, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Then add the chicken, giblets, and backbone back to the pot (or just the chicken if you don’t have the rest), bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and then wait some more. Let it simmer for about an hour to get the chicken cooked through and softened up.
Part 3 The dumpling situation
1 1/3rd cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
⅔ cup buttermilk
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Despite the fact that this ingredients list looks eerily similar to biscuits, these are just dumplings. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Then mix in the wet ingredients until you have a thick and even paste. Scoop out spoonfuls of the dough onto a parchment covered baking tray and let them sit for at least 10-15 minutes. If you have your fancy pants on, get two spoons and do the quenelle thing that you’ve seen on Chef’s Table. Did you think it was going to be harder than that?
Part 4 Final Destination
½ cup heavy cream
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
By now you’ve cooked the chicken through and it should be nice and tender. It’s time to go fishing! Pull all the chicken pieces out onto a cooling rack with a sheet tray underneath to catch the juices. You’ll want to add the juices back to the pool later. You can discard the giblets and backbone and you might as well go ahead and pull out the bay leaves as well. They’ve done their job and nobody likes eating bay leaves.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, you want to remove the skin and bones and rip it into bitesize morsels. Again, they need to fit in a spoon. On a personal note, please make sure you are careful to remove any pieces of cartilage or excess fat. Maybe you’re into that kind of thing. I’m not. Once you have a bunch of delicious meat all by it’s lonesome, add it back into the pot.
At this point, you basically have a chicken soup. That means if you’re not cooking for a small army, you may want to reserve a portion of the current contents of your pot for refrigeration or freezing. Once the cream and dumplings go in, you’re more or less committed. No matter how good it is, you start to get tired of it by the 3rd day. I’m speaking from experience here.
Next add the dumplings into the simmering soup to cook with a lid and give them the steam bath treatment. You’re going to want to let them go in the chicken hot tub for about 15-20 minutes until you can stick a toothpick in them that comes out clean. I usually err on the side of more cook time than less. Since the dumplings are cooking in liquid, you don’t have to really be concerned about them getting dry and tough.
Once the dumplings are cooked through, slowly stir in the cream, parsley, and thyme. Once it’s well incorporated, taste. You’re probably going to want to add a little more salt and pepper until it tastes like you know it should.
Ladle some of that goodness into a bowl, maybe sprinkle with some more parsley on top for the social media pictures, and you hopefully have some chicken and dumplings that may just bring tears to your momma’s eyes.