You asked for it, all of you! So here it is. Patrick O’Connell’s Chicken and Dumplings, from Refined American Cuisine, is a fabulous recipe, and a great place to start, but it’s extremely rich and very costly. Perfect for special occasions, beneath the dumplings are just chicken, carrots and morel mushrooms in a thick cream sauce. For an ordinary day, I prefer a leaner approach. O’Connell’s dumpling dough, which gets a boost from club soda, can’t be beat, so I stick with that, though I’ve tweaked the proportions a bit. I also like his trick of poaching the chicken in stock, and then reducing the stock and adding heavy cream which also has been reduced. But the sauce is much too much, so I lighten it up, and increase the amount as there never seems to be enough sauce. Only every once in a while can we afford morels. I usually just use a mix of fresh mushrooms and dried mushrooms, and for a deeper, earthy flavor, add the liquid from soaking the dried mushrooms to the broth. And I also add some kind of bacon or ham and more vegetables and herbs.
So here’s the strategy, formula, and technique. This recipe is for 2-4 servings, made in a medium sized pot, with extra chicken, vegetables, and sauce for later. The proportions are more or less, give or take. Multiply or divide as you wish:
To make the dumplings, heat ¼ c milk and 1.5 tablespoons butter until butter melts. Sift 1 ¼ c flour, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, and ¼ tsp salt into a bowl. Quickly mix in ¼ c milk and ¼ c club soda or seltzer water. The dough should have some body but still be gooey (insert joke here). Cover and let rest at room temp.
In a small pan combine 1 c milk and one 12 oz can evaporated milk, and reduce to about a cup. Whole or reduced fat milk works best, an if you don’t have or like evaporated milk, you can use half-and-half. I like using evaporated milk because it thickens up as it reduces.
Soak about 2 oz (about a cup) of dried mushrooms-any mix you’ve got: wild, shiitake, portabella, chanterelles, etc- in 1 ½ c warm water for at least a half an hour. Remove mushrooms from soaking liquid and rinse them. If they are larger than a spoon, cut them into smaller pieces. Strain the soaking liquid once or twice, reserving liquid. Sometimes dried mushrooms can be sandy, so be sure that you’ve gotten any sand out. If there is a lot of sand, you can let it settle to the bottom and pour the liquid off the top.
Prepare about 2 c pearl or small boiler onions. Either microwave them, covered, in a bowl with a little water for a minute or two, or poach them with the chicken in the next step. Then trim the ends and peel them, and for the boiler onions cutting any really large ones in half.
Poach 2 chicken breasts or other parts in 4 c chicken stock with a bay leaf for about 10 – 15 minutes, until cooked. Remove chicken from broth, and cut into ½ - 1” pieces.
Skim broth if necessary. Add mushroom soaking liquid to chicken broth. Reduce to about 2 ½ or 3 cups.
Pour reduced milk through a strainer into reduced chicken/mushroom broth, pressing any thickened milk, but not the “skin”, through.
In a large pot, on low heat sauté a few tablespoons of chopped bacon, pancetta, country or other ham until it begins to brown around the edges. Add pearl onions and cook for a few minutes until they begin to brown. Add 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1” pieces, cook for a minute, add 1 celery stalk cut in ½” pieces (chop and reserve celery leaves). After another minute add soaked dried mushrooms and a cup of fresh button or crimini mushrooms, washed, stems trimmed, with the small ones left whole and the larger ones halved or quartered. Add a little olive oil or butter if necessary. Cook for a few minutes until mushrooms are browned.
Add chicken and then broth mixture to vegetables. Salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped celery leaves. If you’re using dried herbs, a good mix for this, about a teaspoon in all, is: more thyme, a small amount of rosemary, and a barely perceptible spot of sage, and some chervil or parsley, but if you’ve got any French mix- bonnes herbes, fines herbes, herbs de Provence- they would do too, just use what you like, but don’t overdo it. If you’re using fresh herbs it is the same as for dried, but start with a tablespoon or two, keeping it heavier on the thyme and parsley. I only use a small amount rosemary and a very small amount of purple sage if it is fresh in the garden. Chervil is lovely if you’ve got it and so is marjoram, but if you use marjoram, skip the rosemary and sage. Got that?
Anyway, bring this to a simmer. There should be a lot of broth. Using a teaspoon, drop small amounts of the dumpling dough onto the surface, leaving a little space around them and shaping them into roundish shapes. Make them small, as they’ll expand quite a bit. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Dust lightly with paprika and serve.
*Please note: Recipe Request #2, “Things you can make on a stove with no oven,” is an ongoing request, and will influence recipes posted henceforth.