Dumpling is one of those ubiquitous words in cooking, found all over the world in various forms. Of course, part of this is because the definition of dumpling is pretty wide, they’re basically just cooked balls of dough. This dough can be made of flour, potatoes (or other starchy vegetable), or bread, can be filled with meat or vegetables, or not, and can be steamed, simmered, fried, boiled, or baked. A variety of dumpling can be found in most cuisines, Poland has pierogi, Italy has gnocchi, Ghana and other African countries have fufu, China has potstickers, Japan has gyoza, the list could go on.
American Southern food is perhaps not the most developed cuisine out there (which is ok, it hasn’t had that much time to develop), but it too has a contender to add to this list. These dumplings are about as simple as it gets, flour whisked with salt and baking powder, then mixed with egg and buttermilk. They’re then simmered of a rich, creamy chicken broth, packed with vegetables and shredded chicken. It’s just like chicken noodle soup, but with dumplings instead of noodles, and in spite of my intense love of pasta, I think the dumplings might win here.
Even though I grew up in Texas, I actually didn’t discover this southern delicacy until I was a teenager (neither of my parents are native Texans, and not particularly partial to the cuisine), but ever since then it has been an intense love affair. I’m a big fan of soups in general, but something cozy, creamy, and just a little carby like this? I’m sold.
It helps that this recipe is fairly basic and forgiving. I go roughly off the Pioneer Woman’s version, because she is absolutely the woman you want on your side with a dish like this. The biggest thing I change is the dumplings, mostly because I can’t be bothered to search out cornmeal in France (I tried briefly, but accidentally brought home cornstarch instead. Whoops!). I experimented with several different recipes before checking with the Joy of Cooking, and although their Chicken and Dumplings recipe is actually pretty weird, their dumplings are almost perfect (I upped the amount of liquid used, and used buttermilk instead of milk). They’re incredibly light and fluffy, and the egg + buttermilk combination adds a nice dimension to them. I mean, seriously look at these guys. They’re ridiculous.
The original recipe calls for a whole chicken cut up into pieces, but I always use 4 thighs because I prefer dark meat, chicken is sold that way at my store, and I don’t really have any pots large enough to accommodate that much chicken. As Ree notes in her recipe, browning the chicken at the beginning is not strictly necessary, but it does add a nice base of flavor, and the flour helps the soup thicken later on. Plus you can do it while you’re prepping the vegetables.
I do have one slightly out-there ingredient in my recipe: apple cider vinegar. The idea is not to make the soup taste vinegary, but to balance out the flavors. This is a big concept in Asian cooking, the secret to creating a perfect meal is to balance the flavors, so the point of the vinegar to cut through the creamy and highlight the other flavors preventing the soup from being overly rich. You can of course leave it out if it still doesn’t sound appealing, but I think you should try it.
Last thing: this makes a pretty generous veggies/chicken to broth ratio, mostly because I don’t have any pots big enough to accommodate more broth. If you do have large pots, then feel free to add liquid to the ratio you see fit! I actually usually add another cup or two of broth into the pot after we’ve eaten a few bowls to make it stretch further, so feel free to do that too.
Chicken and Dumplings
Adapted from both the Pioneer Woman and Joy of Cooking
Serves 6-8 people
For the soup:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 chicken thighs (or whatever chicken pieces you prefer)
1/4 cup flour
1 medium carrot
1 celery stalk
1/2 teaspoon of thyme
5 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (more or less to taste)
1/3 cup cream
For the dumplings:
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
~1/2 cup buttermilk (or regular milk, amount depending on the size of your egg)
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a pot. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour. Place skin side down in the pot. Let the skin brown undisturbed for a few minutes, before moving the chicken to ensure the skin isn’t sticking. Once the skin side is brown (about 5-8 minutes), flip and brown on the other side.
While the chicken is browning, chop the onion into a small-ish dice. Wash the carrot and the celery thoroughly, then chop both into a small-ish dice. When the chicken is done, remove from the pot and set aside on a plate. Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in the same pot (with the same fat) until everything has softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the thyme. Pour in the broth, and add the browned chicken (and any juices from the plate!) into the pot. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, mix up the dumplings. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Crack and egg into a measuring cup and fill with buttermilk (or regular milk) until the cup is 3/4 full. Mix the liquid in until it is evenly combined.
After 20 minutes, remove the chicken from the pot and place on a plate to cool slightly. Pour in the cream and cider vinegar to taste, then return the lid to the pot and continue simmering. When the chicken is cool enough to touch, remove the meat from the bones and shred it, either with forks or your hands. Return the chicken meat to the pot, discard the skin and bones. Stir to combine everything and adjust to taste.
Make sure the broth is at a healthy simmer, and you’re ready to cook the dumplings. Dip a spoon in the stock, then scoop up about a tablespoon of batter and drop on top of the soup. Continue this until you’ve used up the batter, and the top of the soup is covered in dumplings. Remember that they’ll puff up a little so give them room to grow.
As soon as the last dumpling is in, put the lid back on the pot and let the dumplings cook for 10 minutes. Don’t peek! After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let the soup rest for 5-10 more minutes. Serve! This will keep for a day or two in the fridge, but the dumplings do get a little soggy. That’s life.