There's more delicious soup-gravy in the finished dish than appears here in this picture, which was taken this morning after the leftovers sat in the fridge overnight and sucked up all their own juices.
I'll confess that I am not the biggest fan of chicken and dumplings in the world.
There, I said it. My Southern card will be revoked next time I try to cross the Mason Dixon, y'all, but I felt I needed to come clean about my shortcomings in this important area of Southern cuisine.
But Al? He LOVES him some C-n-D. (He is from further South than I am. Maybe he's MORE SOUTHERN?) Anyway Al's sweet mother, Grandma Carrie Bell, made this rustic, homey dish very often throughout his childhood, and I love being able to do little things that bring her back to him, even if just for the time it takes to eat supper. So I've made it many times myself, using various recipes, always looking for the one that brings that look of peace and love and nostalgia over his face. This one? Is that one.
This recipe makes a dense, almost pasta-like dumpling, which Al swears is "the only true dumpling." If you are lookin' for the fat, fluffy, biscuit-type dumplings that I prefer, this is not your recipe, friend.
Chicken and Dumplings
3 qt water
1 3 or 4 lb. whole chicken, rinsed well
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 onion, cut in big chunks
2 stalks celery, broken up, but with leaves still attached (I like to use the very middle of the celery bunch because it has the most flavor.)
1 large carrot, broken
2 cloves garlic, peeled and rough-chopped
2 bay leaves
8 or so black pepper corns
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
For the dumplings:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk
Bring the water to a boil in a large stock pot. Add onion, celery, carrot, garlic, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Immerse chicken. Heat to just before the boil and reduce to simmer, covered, for 2 hours. These will be two of the best-worst hours of your life, due to the aroma of this delicious pot of wonderment.
Remove the chicken from the pot to cool. It will fall apart. This is good. Let it do your work for you. Allow the stock to cool a bit and then strain all of the solids out and discard them.
Congratulations! If you stop here and never do another thing, you have just created the best chicken stock ever. You may now collect your halo and wings and proceed to the clouds. Because you will never do another thing this good. It's all downhill from here.
But if you really want to chance it, you can proceed with the dumplings.
Mix the flour, salt and baking powder together in a big bowl. Pour in the milk and stir until a crumbly dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times until you've got all the crumbles under control. Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough to a 1/2" thickness. Grab your pizza cutter and cut into 1/2" to 1" strips. (These are YOUR dumplings! YOU be the boss!), then cut across the strips to make 1/2" to 1" squares. Badda bing, badda bang, badda boom, y'all. Raw dumplins!
(They are so-o-o good raw.) (Stop that!)
Return 6 cups of the stock to a clean pan, add the lemon juice and bring to a boil. Gently drop the dumplings into the stock and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 25 minutes, stirring often. Your dumplings are going to RISE UP (Hallelujah!) and then shrink a little as they partially dissolve into the stock, making it into a thick, rich, velvety half-soup-half-gravy.
While your dumplings are ... dumple... ling, pick through your chicken to remove bones and cartilage and other icky things, and then cut all the chicken into large chunks. When the dumplings and sauce are all thickened and dumpled-ish, check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Carefully place the chicken into the soup/gravy and gently push it down to immerse and just heat it through again (otherwise the chicken falls apart/shreds and we want nice big chunks.)
Spoon into bowls and serve.
Serves 6-ish in my family. 4 once, 2 twice.
Al is usually both of the twice.
We love and miss you, Grandma Carrie.