Has it been awhile since you've picked up a whole chicken at the market? It had been for us, as lately it has just been easier to pick up the parts we wanted or needed to get the job done. Tonight's dinner, Chicken and Dumplings, reminded me why it's worth picking up a whole chicken and really put it to work.
Because this is a "from scratch" recipe, we needed to get dinner going quite a bit earlier than normal by making a batch of homemade stock with that chicken. Simply the cleaned bird, a couple bay leaves (from our Bay Laurel tree Mom gave us to grow!), a few sprigs of fresh time, peppercorns, a head of split garlic, salt and enough water to completely cover is all that's needed for this homemade stock. Left to simmer until the chicken is meltingly tender, be sure to take the extra time to skim the scum and fat off the surface often while this bubbles away in the pot.
When the chicken had given itself to the liquid, we removed it and set it aside to cool down while we strained out the leftover solids in the broth. Not because I've ever done this (*rolls eyes*), but don't forget to put a container underneath your strainer so you don't cry as you watch the stock trickle down the drain. When the chicken had cooled down enough, we tore into in, shredding the meat as we went, and set it aside to be added back later.
To get the base of the sauce together, butter was melted with a couple glugs of olive oil to begin softening diced carrots and celery with a minced garlic and a couple more of those bay leaves. To give the sauce some thickness later on, flour is stirred into the mix to begin a very light roux - once in, stir the flour around the pot for just a couple minutes to cook out the starchy taste, but don't go more than that as you are not looking for it to take on color. That homemade stock you've already prepared is finally gradually whisked in, along with chunky pearl onions and peas. Once it has simmered enough to begin to thicken, just a touch of richness is added by drizzling in heavy cream. I wouldn't suggest swapping this out for a lighter product as its creaminess is needed... it ends up being less than a tablespoon per serving! If you're worried about having leftovers of that cream, freeze it in tablespoon portions - it won't make whipped cream any more, but it works just fine for sauces or whatnot.
While the sauce was finishing up, there one was last thing we needed to make - the buttermilk-chive dumplings! You'll notice we call for "about 1 cup" of the buttermilk - when you mix the ingredients together, start out with 3/4 cup worth and check the texture. Since flour isn't reliable with how much liquid it needs, hold back and if it seems too dry, add in enough of remaining buttermilk to get to a point where the batter is not dry, but is still fairly thick. When the above sauce was ready and the shredded chicken was folded in to warm through, the dumplings were portioned out into the pot to cook through. The original recipe said the dumplings shouldn't be crowded, but the batter makes a fair amount and ours did end up filling in every inch of our pot when it had all been added. Maybe our pot was on the smaller side? It didn't matter though, by covering the pan, it trapped in the moisture and heat so that the dumplings still puffed and cooked evenly.
Whew - that was a bit drawn out huh? Didn't I mention this dish was going to take some time? Thankfully we picked a Sunday to make it! Between the meaty shreds of chicken, generous vegetables and creamy sauce, adding those tender, light dumplings on top made for such a swoon-worthy dinner that was worthy of every minute it took. Jeff initially thumbed his nose up to those bulbous pearl onions when I tossed those in, adding one of those "I don't like it" claims and "I'll be picking those out, thanks" but guess what wasn't left behind?! Ha! Take that!
You could prepare the stock and shred the chicken ahead of time if you wanted to give yourself a head start, which would help speed this along on the day you make it. Doing that would also give you a chance to stash the stock into the refrigerator, letting the fat rise up and solidify on the surface to scrape off before you use it. However, not doing that made for such an ultimate comfort food dish with quite the voluptuous sauce!
Chicken and Dumplings