Clara, my great grandmother, always kept chickens. And while the majority of the time chickens were for eggs, old layers, non-layers and overly mean roosters made their way into the stewing pot for one of Clara’s specialties – Chicken & Dumplings.
Now, a lot of people make dumplings a lot of different ways; there are those thick, dense almost noodle -like dumplings; there are the globs of biscuit dough plopped on top of the broth; then there is Clara’s way – soft, tender, pillow-y dumplings, barely holding together amongst the rich broth and bits of dark meat.
Jane tells a story of a time just after she married my dad. She had been on the Square in Marietta, doing some bit of shopping, and stopped in at Clara’s just about lunch time. Clara had just made a big pot of dumplings and served her up a bowl. Those same soft dumplings, that rich, flavorful broth – Jane kept commenting on how good those dumplings were.. “The best Chicken and Dumplings I’ve ever had”, she told her.
My great grandmother just smiled and said. “I’m glad you liked them…. but I’ve got something to tell you… That wasn’t chicken…. it was squirrel.”
I had a hankering to make soft dumplings the other day, but since I’ve never made them, I asked Jane how it was done. “Oh, I can make them for you!” she says…
and well… Me (being the kind, loving, dutiful son) didn’t let her weasel out of her offer.
Picking you Meat
Truly good dumplings requires a good, rich broth. And like that pot of squirrel, a good broth needs dark meat. You have to have the collagen, fat, blood, protein, and connective tissue stewing away to add bags of flavor to the broth – and you just can’t get that from white meat. So, when possible, buy a package of skin-on thighs or leg quarters to make your broth.
For your broth, you’ll need:
5 to 6 Chicken Thighs – Bone In / Skin On
1 Cup Chicken Stock
3 Cups Water
1/2 Cup Onion – Diced
2 Ribs Celery – Diced
1 Teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Butter
Saute the onions and celery in butter and add the thighs.
Pour the water, stock, seasoning, salt & pepper and bring to a boil.
Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 1 hour.
Remove the chicken and let it cool a bit.
Skim all the oil from the broth
Discard the cooked skin, and Pull the meat from the bones in large-ish bits
Now those Dumplings
1 Cup Self Rising Flour (Always, Always White Lily Flour)
1/4 Cup Lard
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
Extra 1/2 Cup Flour for Working
Add 1 Cup of Self Rising Flour to a bowl with about 1/4 Cup if lard
Cut the lard into the flour
Add 1/2 Cup of Buttermilk
With a fork, work the mix into a dough
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and form into a ball
Pat it flat
and roll it out about 1/4″ thick
Cut into 1″ strips and into 3 ” sections
Add your pulled chicken back to the broth and bring up to a light boil
Working in small batches, add the dumplings to the heated broth
cook for 2 minutes, and carefully turn them over with forks – cook another minute.
Gently lift out the cooked dumplings and cook the next batch
When all the dumplings are cooked, transfer all the dumplings back to the pot.
(At this point, Clara would have topped the dumplings with an inordinate amount of black pepper… I didn’t do that)
Cover, set off the heat, and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
Serve them up.