Friday, December 4, 2020

Homemade Chicken and Dumplings -- A Frugal Stick-to-Your-Bones Supper


As a native of Eastern Oregon where there are four distinct seasons, I learned to change up my menus as the weather changed. Fresh salads and fancy sandwiches at springtime, grilled meat and watermelon in the summer, light soups and casseroles in fall, and thick stews with crusty bread in winter. We knew it was time to change seasons by the way things smelled---even when fall was ending and the bite of winter was coming, we could smell the snow in the air.

The South (we are in Arkansas now) likes to play the "let's change up everything with the seasons" game too---only nothing is distinct and there are no signs of a new season coming. I've been here seven years and I still can't read the clouds. We just roll with it day to day and pretend winter is real. Sometimes December is mostly 40s and 50s, other times it's 70s and even 80s.

Still, my kids must have a little northener left in them because they've been requesting chicken and dumplings for weeks now. According to my seven year old, I've not made this family favorite since the night we decorated Christmas sugar cookies---in 2018. She's probably not wrong. I just haven't been feeling it---the whole "do the exciting new season stuff"---but I'm determined to try harder. Especially in a crazy year like 2020 has been, a bit of normalcy is important. These are the things families are made of---the memories and traditions and faith that binds us together.

So tonight I made this hearty, stick-to-your-bones meal in a pot and everyone cheered. I fell asleep while the chicken was cooking but it was perfectly tender. I thought I dumped too much thyme in, but it was fantastic. I thought I went too fast on the veggies and feared I'd undercooked the carrots, but they were just right. Apparently, I've still got the knack. Here's roughly how I made it---I hope your family enjoys chicken and dumplings as much as we do.

Homemade Chicken and Dumplings (12 servings, 8 hours)

1 whole chicken
up to 3 quarts poultry broth (I used turkey broth from our Thanksgiving carcass)
6 bay leaves
3 carrots
3 celery stalks
onion to taste (I used 2 TB dried onions, you could use up to 1 whole, if you like)
thyme, garlic, salt to taste

4 c. flour
8 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
2 c. water

Put the chicken in a large soup pot (mine is 14 qt.), and add all the broth. Add water until it covers to about an inch above the chicken. Add the bay leaves and a few teaspoons of salt. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for about 6 hours. 

After about 6 hours, remove the chicken from the pot. (I use a small handled strainer to scoop it out whole but always need to fish out the wings with a slotted spoon!) Make sure to use a slotted spoon to get out any bones. Then set your chicken aside to cool and keep the broth hot on the lowest setting, covered. The chicken will take 30-45 minutes to cool. Once it's cooled, pull the meat off the bones and put it back into the broth in small pieces. Be careful to feel for any small bones. Then cut up your vegetables and add them to the broth, along with the thyme and garlic. Taste to see if you want to add more salt. I end up adding quite a bit to get it just right. Finally, turn your pot back up to a higher setting to get the broth boiling again.

While the broth is heating back up, mix up the dumplings by combining the flour, baking powder and salt, then stir in the water. Use a spoon for this---you want the batter to look lumpy. Once the broth is boiling rapidly, drop spoonfuls of the batter into the boiling broth. The dumplings will cook quickly and rise to the top when they're done. Just keep dropping them in until you've got all the batter in there. It will look crowded but they'll figure it out. Ha!

I served ours with zucchini bread tonight (yay for summer harvest preservation!) but you could also do biscuits, rolls, or just eat it as a one-pot meal. Yum!

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