Friday night, Gourmandistan served chicken and dumplings for dinner, along with a little watercress salad. The salad we threw together in a trice—Michelle’s high leaf-selection standards were the biggest delay. The chicken and dumplings? Getting that dish together took a bit over a year.
We started with several baby chicks, which grew into heritage French Houdan hens running around the yard with the rest of the flock. Actually, these Houdans spent much of their time running from the rest of the flock, pecked bare-backed and bald by their nasty and brutish coop mates, and by each other. In early Spring Steve tried to reduce the numbers of our flock by letting the chickens roam free, but even the dopey Houdans (complete with tasty-looking patches of bare chicken flesh on display) proved resistant to hawks, owls and coyotes. Once her flower beds were re-mulched, Michelle demanded the hens be confined to their fenced yard—and Steve was forced to take reduction into his own hands. Michelle’s father helped dispatch the Houdans (along with another, ancient, Red Cap hen), and Steve spent Monday morning plucking and cleaning, then putting the birds in brine. Wednesday night, we made stock from the Red Cap.
Because Michelle wanted to treat the Houdans with respect, and “honor” their place at our table, she felt the best way would be to make chicken and dumplings. So on Thursday, starting in the early afternoon, we began to prepare. Steve butchered the carcasses (more in the pejorative sense—though he may be able to behead, pluck and clean on a par with any poor Tyson worker, beautiful cuts of meat are apparently beyond him). Michelle began to prepare the vegetables and cook the meat (a four-hour process), and mix a roux for the next round of cooking.
Steve thought the house smelled heavenly, while Michelle kept on cooking. Friday afternoon, Michelle made dumplings, using chives and parsley from our herb garden outside.
Finally, everything was in the pot together—broth, chicken, vegetables, dumplings. And yes, it was very much worth the effort. That delightful meal was the goal dangling before us at every step, from plunking dumpling dough into a bubbling pot all the way back to plodding out to the coop on a winter morning. And this time, we got to eat it.
CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS
Cut two small hens in pieces, and brown them, along with a quartered onion, in a little bit of olive oil in a large pot. Cover with water. Add several stalks of celery, a carrot and some parsley. Bring nearly to a boil, then simmer for several hours until chicken is done.
Remove chicken, etc. from stock and set aside. When chicken is cool, remove meat from bones, shredding. Set aside.
Strain stock through cheesecloth.
Make Thomas Keller’s chicken soup, as described in one of our prior posts, but double the amount of roux to make the broth thicker. Instead of asparagus, we added steamed sugar snap peas and some sweet red pepper, diced and sautéed in a small amount of butter.
Then make dumplings (these adapted from The Cook’s Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry):
2 c. all purpose flour
1 TB baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3 TB unsalted butter
1 c. milk
Mix dry ingredients in medium bowl. Add chopped herbs if desired. Heat butter and milk to simmer. Add to dry ingredients. Mix with a fork until mixture just comes together, much like biscuit dough. Roll dough out on floured wax paper to 1/2 to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut dough into strips, measuring about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch across.
Lay formed dumplings on broth, over medium high heat. Cover and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.