Frogdancer mentioned a soup swap on her blog, and I was intrigued. How do you swap soup? Apparently it involves posting a recipe for soup and listing your site on the Turkeycookies Soup Swap blog post. So here goes…
My favorite cookbook is called “The New Best Recipe,” by the people responsible for Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. Every recipe I’ve tried has been phenomenal (Peanut Butter Cookies, Molasses Cookies, Meatloaf…) but my ultimate favorite has to be the Chicken and Dumplings. I’ve made it dozens of times, and here’s my adaptation of their recipe.
Chicken and Dumplings
It sounds really scary and labor intensive, but it isn’t actually that difficult. Just give yourself three to four hours to finish it. You can also do this over two days or morning and afternoon, if you like. You’ll have a couple of breaks to work on other things while it cooks.You can keep it warm on the stove for quite a while before adding the dumplings and peas, so if you’re done sooner than you’d like, it isn’t a problem. Make sure you have a strong, heavy knife (someday I want to buy a cleaver just for this recipe), and be careful when you’re cutting the chicken apart. I really recommend a whisk rather than a spoon when making the sauce.
NOTE: I wrote this two years ago, and in re-reading it I’ve realized that it’s rather graphic in the description of how to cut up the chicken. I’m not editing it because if you don’t know how to do it, the info is useful, but if that sort of thing bothers you, consider skipping the part between the * marks.
1 large roasting chicken (6-7 pounds)
2 large onions
2 bay leaves
3 celery stalks
4 medium carrots
4 Tbsp. butter (or chicken fat, or combination)
6 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. sherry
1/4 c. heavy cream (or half and half, or whole milk, at the very least)
3/4 c. frozen baby peas (trust me, baby peas are worth it – they aren’t all pasty in the middle like some frozen peas can be)
Salt & pepper
2 c. flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. butter
1 c. milk
Do all of your prep work, starting with the vegetables, to avoid contamination from the chicken. Cut the celery and peeled carrots into 1″ x 1 1/2″ chunks. Peel one onion and cut it into 1″ chunks. This onion and the carrots and celery can all be set aside in one dish.Cover it to be sure you don’t splatter it with chicken stuff later. Cut the other onion into big chunks. You should cut off any roots and any really dried out stem, but you don’t have to peel it. You’ll be discarding this later.
If you remember, get the peas out to thaw. If you’re like me, you’ll remember them at the end, just before you have to throw them in. In that case, just run them under hot water for a minute or so and they’ll be fine.
Now cut up the chicken. There’s an art to cutting up a chicken, and if you know it, great. If not, it doesn’t matter for this recipe because you’ll be shredding it later anyway. Just know that it’s messy. You’ll be making two piles of pieces – the bony stuff and the meaty stuff. You’ll refrigerate the meaty stuff for a while, so make sure that’s in a container.
Cut the neck into smaller sections, if possible. Remove the wings, cutting through the shoulder joint. Cut the wings into two or three pieces, separating at the elbow joint, and then again through the upper piece if you can. Please be very careful using the knife here – you’re cutting through bone, and if your hands or the handle are slippery, you could cut yourself. If the bone is too heavy to cut through (often the case with larger chickens), don’t worry about it – leave it as a single piece. Throw these in the bony pile. Now remove the legs and thighs. Slice through the skin at the inner side. Place the chicken breast down in front of you and put one hand on the back, just beside the hip joint. Pull the leg to the side and up, dislocating the hip joint. Cut through the joint, leaving as much meat attached to the leg as possible. Repeat with the other side. Remove the skin by peeling it back from the thighs and down the legs. When it starts to stick, turn it inside out, get a good grip, and pull the legs out. Set these in the meaty pile. Now you want to separate the front from the back, but you want to keep as much meat as possible with the front. Peel the skin from the breast, “stripping” the chicken and cutting as necessary to remove it. You won’t be able to remove it from the back – that’s okay. Slide the edge of the knife along the ribs, under the breast meat, then cut through the ribs. Pull the breast up, breaking the bones at the shoulder. Cut through here to separate the breast and the back. The skinless breast should go in the meaty pile. Remove any loose skin, and check the inside of the back for traces of organs. It’s disgusting, I know, but scrape them out from between the ribs. Cut the back into several smaller sections. This will take some force, so again, be careful. Place the knife between the joints or ribs, then press on the back of the knife with your other hand, holding the handle steady. These pieces go in the bony pile. If the inner packet (heart, liver, gizzards, etc.) contains a neck and/or a tail, put them in the bony pile.
Before you go any further, wash everything up with a nice dose of soap. Counters, cutting board, knife, and especially your hands. Salmonella isn’t something you want to mess with. Put the meaty pieces into the refrigerator since it will be half an hour before you need them.
Okay, time to start cooking. You need a large, deep, heavy bottomed pan with a good lid. A 12″ skillet might work if it has nice high sides. I prefer a dutch oven or larger pot. Heat it over medium high heat and throw in the bony chicken pieces and the unpeeled onion chunks. You do not need to add any oil – the chicken will render out some fat, and anything that sticks only adds to the flavor. Stir it every once in a while until the onions get soft and the chicken doesn’t look raw anymore. This will take 5 – 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, put the lid on, and cook for another 20 minutes. This is called “sweating” and it’s the basis of the stock that you’re making. (Betcha didn’t know you’d be making your own stock, huh?) This is your first break. Read a book, vacuum a room or two, chain piece some blocks, machine quilt a row – whatever you need to do.
Increase the heat to medium high and add 6 cups of water, the bay leaves, 3/4 tsp. salt, and the meaty chicken pieces. If necessary, cut these into smaller pieces to make them fit in your pan. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and put the lid on partway, then simmer for another 20 minutes. Break time!
Use tongs to pull out the meaty pieces and set them aside to cool. Put them in another container (or use the same one if you’re really efficient and used the 20 minutes to do dishes) and put them in the freezer or refrigerator. You’ll be pulling these apart with your fingers, so you really want them to cool down.
Place a strainer into an even larger bowl and strain the remaining liquid and chicken parts. Set aside any chicken pieces that have enough meat to pick off (upper wings, some of the back) and toss the rest, including the onion chunks and bay leaf. I like to strain the liquid a second time using cheesecloth or even a plain paper towel to get out the little scummy bits. Set the broth aside to cool and separate. If you have a large fat separator, great. If not, be prepared to skim. This is a good place to stop if you’re going to do this over two days, or morning and afternoon. As the broth cools, the fat rises to the top. If it gets really cool (refrigerator or covered in a cold winter garage or back stoop), the fat will even solidify and you can scoop it right off. If you’re in a hurry, like I am, try to gently scoop off the fat from the top with a spoon. Don’t throw it out – you’ll use some of it later. The other thing you can do is use a turkey baster to suck up the broth from the bottom. You’ll need 4 cups of broth for this recipe, and you can save the rest for later (homemade chicken noodle soup, anyone?).
Pick apart the meaty chicken pieces. Just peel chunks off and separate it with your fingers into bite sized pieces.
Clean out the pan and put about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom. Bring to a simmer and toss in the celery, carrots, and onion chunks. If you have a steamer basket, use it, but I usually don’t bother. Why dirty another dish? Steam/boil the vegetables for 10 minutes, then strain and set aside. Wipe out the pan.
Start making the dumplings. I’ve heard dumplings described as nothing more than boiled dough. That sounds awful. In order to make light, fluffy dumplings, you need to assemble them a little differently. First, measure your milk into a microwave safe container that has at least a cup of extra room. Put the butter in with it and nuke it until the butter melts. This hot liquid is THE SECRET. While the milk is heating, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. You want them evenly distributed. Using a spatula (I like the silicone ones – they’re heatproof and almost nothing sticks to them), make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the warm milk and mix it all up, then set it aside while you make the sauce. Baking powder reacts to both liquid and heat, and by letting the dumplings puff up a bit now, you’ll have lighter dumplings. Now you know. Some people like to roll the dumplings out and cut them into pretty strips, others like to form them into balls, and others pat them out and cut them with a biscuit cutter. I don’t like wasting the time. I just use a soup spoon and scoop out a couple of tablespoons. Do what you like, but my way is so much faster and easier. If you decide to form them into shapes, do so now so they can fluff up while you’re working on the soup.
We’re in the home stretch – now it’s time to start the sauce. Make sure you have the flour, thyme, sherry and 4 cups of chicken broth within reach of the pan, because these steps happen fast once they start. If you’ve managed to reserve 4 tablespoons of chicken fat, put it in the pan. If you don’t have enough, add enough butter to make 4 tablespoons, or just use butter alone. Heat over medium high heat watching very closely as the butter or fat bubbles and hisses. Have your flour and a whisk ready, and as soon as it stops bubbling (or if it starts to look like it’s thinking about burning), whisk in the thyme and flour until it turns golden, a minute or two. It will look like a smooth, fairly liquid paste. Keep whisking (really, you need a whisk for this – a spoon just won’t cut it) as you add the sherry. The flour and fat will turn very thick at the first touch of the liquid. Keep whisking! Add the chicken broth a cup or so at a time, whisking out any lumps before adding more. By the third addition it should be smooth and fairly thin, and you’re just stirring to combine. Simmer for a few minutes until it thickens ever so slightly. This should be more like a light cream soup than a gravy. Stir in the cream (or half and half, or milk, if you’re really wimpy), then the chicken and steamed vegetables. Return to a simmer.
Place the dumplings on the surface of the simmering liquid, trying not to overlap them too much. Cover and simmer until the dumplings are cooked through, about 15 minutes my way, with balls, or biscuits, and 10 minutes if you did strips.
Stir in your thawed peas (did you remember?), breaking up the dumplings that are sticking together. It’s okay if they go under the surface now – it’s just a couple of minutes. Let the peas cook for a minute or three, depending on how thawed they were. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. Ladle up, sit back and accept the compliments.
Alternatives, if you must:
If all of the chicken hacking is just too much to attempt, I SUPPOSE you could buy a chicken already cut up, or a couple of breasts, thighs, legs, and backs or wings. You really need the backs and wings to make a good stock, and frankly, if you’re going to do this, it’s worth making your own stock. Canned or even boxed chicken broth is just too artificial tasting. If you choose to go the canned broth route, please don’t tell me. Yes, I’m a bit of a food snob.