When I moved out to California and was first living on my own, I believe chicken and dumplings was among the first meals I made for myself. Of course, being new to cooking and not very confident with my knife skills, I sort of cheated. Okay fine. I totally cheated. I used some sort of chicken soup "starter" in a cardboard can that was full of dehydrated vegetables and seasonings and I'm sure a shit load of salt. All you had to do is add water and chicken. I decided that I'd also add dumplings, taking a simple soup to the next level, or so I thought. Taking a cue from my mom's chicken and dumpling recipe, I also picked up a box of Bisquick. Simple, easy and delicious. Chicken with Bisquick dumplings was kind of a go to dish for me when the weather would get cool and I needed a cozy bowl of something warm.
So when the temperature in Los Angeles took an all too brief dip below the 60's, I jumped at the opportunity to make a pot. Only this time, I wasn't going to cheat. I had seen this recipe on Smitten Kitchen quite a while ago and it had always stuck with me. Her picture was so tempting and I loved the idea of the leeks and tarragon.
Now there are two schools of thought on dumplings. Some people prefer to roll out the dumplings on a floured surface and then cut them out, dropping them into the simmering stew to cook. Growing up, my mom used the "drop dumpling" method. No rolling is required. Instead, you simply scoop a little of the batter into a spoon, and then using another spoon drop it into the stew. They're much more free form than the ones that are rolled out, which to me just seem more like big thick noodles. Rustic would be a good word to describe them. To be honest, I much prefer the drop dumplings, especially when they're flavored with fresh herbs. Of course you could just add chopped fresh tarragon to Bisquick dumplings but then you'd be, everyone say it together, cheating. We don't cheat at Well Fed, do we people?
5 pounds bone in, skin on organic chicken thighs
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced in half lengthwise and then cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 large onion finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 cups low sodium organic chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup whole milk
small bunch of thyme, tied together with kitchen string
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 cup (or so) frozen green peas
3 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, minced
(for the dumplings)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons reserved chicken fat
Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel and then season on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven on medium high for 2 minutes. Add half the chicken, skin side down, and cook until golden brown, about 8 minutes.
Turn the thighs over and continue to cook until the other side is browned, another 8 minutes or so. Transfer the chicken to a plate and remove the browned skin (it makes a delicious albeit not very healthy cooks snack). Pour off the chicken fat left in the pot and reserve. Pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and continue cooking the other half of the chicken thighs. Remove the browned chicken thighs from the Dutch oven and add to the to the others. Pour off and reserve any chicken fat and remove the skin from the second batch of thighs.
Add the butter to the Dutch oven and melt over medium high heat. Add the leeks and onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Sit in the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
Add the flour, stirring to coat the vegetables. Whisk in the sherry, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the broth, water, milk, thyme bundle and bay leaves.
Nestle the chicken into the pot and pour in any accumulated juices. Cover, crank the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the chicken is fully cooked and tender.
Using a pair of tongs, transfer the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet and let cool slightly. Turn off the heat and allow the sauce to settle for a few minutes, then skim the fat from the surface using a wide spoon. Remove the chicken from the bones and shred into bite sized pieces.
Return the chicken to the stew, add in the peas and tarragon and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder. Heat the chicken fat and milk in a small saucepan (or microwave them in a small heat proof bowl), just until warm. Do not over heat. Add the warm milk mixture and the tarragon into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated and smooth.
Gather a small golf-ball-sized portion of dough onto a soup spoon and then using a second spoon, push the dumpling off into the stew. Continue until all the dough is used up.
Cover and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the dumplings have doubled in size.
Serve in wide, shallow bowls with a couple grindings of black pepper. Minced fresh parsley might be nice. And/or maybe a little extra chopped tarragon.
I love this dish because it seems like recipes that feel hearty also have a tendency to have a heaviness to them, but this one has very delicate flavors. Using dark meat chicken gives the stew much more flavor and the texture of the dark meat just seems to stand up better to the slow braise. The tarragon, peas and leeks have a light freshness that balances out the creamy sauce and the toothsome dumplings. These dumplings aren't as tender as the Bisquick ones that I made in the past. But that's not a bad thing. In fact, I recall the Bisquick dumplings often just disintegrating into the soup upon subsequent reheatings and then all you're left with is very thick chicken soup. A nice thing about this dish is that it stands up well to reheating and in fact Mark and I had leftovers for several nights after. In fact, the flavor sort of deepened.
Serves 6 to 8