Last Friday, the foodie world uttered a simultaneous [gasp!] when the media speculated that Butter Queen Paula Deen seems poised to admit to her long-rumored Type II diabetes diagnosis.
But was this really gasp-worthy news? Interesting, perhaps, that a chef who has built her celebrity around the overuse of butter will finally concede that she was, at last, foiled by same. But no one should be shocked. Butter in small amounts is probably not going to kill you. Shameless use of butter by the stick, however, is a different story.
(And never one to take the hint, the Food Network, Paula’s TV home, did America’s pancreas and arteries no particular good in adding yet another butter-queen-in-the-making to its regular show roster. Am I all alone in the world in wanting to see a show with someone like Kim Boyce or Heidi Swanson?)
So what’s a foodie to do? It’s really simple: moderation.
Yeah, you already knew that. You did. But it’s really easy to forget when you’re browsing a recipe site, getting hungrier with every click.
And here’s the thing: you don’t need a whole stick of butter to create incredible flavors. Take my go-to chicken and dumplings. A dish traditionally made with skin-on chicken, rendered chicken fat, lots of butter, and full fat milk, I slim things down considerably — skinless chicken (and therefore no chicken fat), a little butter, reduced fat milk, whole wheat flour subbed for a portion of the white — and instead inject lots of flavor with loads of aromatic vegetables and simple herbs, both in the stew and in the dumplings (hello, tarragon-parsley-and-chives dumplings, my little darlings).
Here’s the first thing Ms. Paula should do: start a vegetable garden. The mild winter has kept my Midwest autumn garden going strong — healthy, fresh, organic vegetables in January! If I can do this in Ohio, she can certainly do this in Georgia. I’m still pulling leeks, carrots, chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary and celery (!) out of my garden. Such a nice treat.
After decades of gardening it still amazes me when I take my collection of seed packets in February and spread them out on the living room floor, realizing that in mere months, an entire summer’s and fall’s worth of food will spring from these seeds. It’s impossible not to be a little in awe of that prospect.
I don’t know about you, but looking at this pot doesn’t make me feel deprived. This is actually one of my very favorite winter chicken dishes. I say this with all honesty, people: I just don’t see how adding chicken fat and loads more butter can make the dish better. Different, sure. But better? It’s already, really, really tasty.
I feel for Paula, having to live with a diagnosis like that, but if one good thing can come from it, I hope that she stands up and shows the world that not all great flavors are derived from butter.
Speaking of looking at the pot, you know the part that kinda stinks about photographing what you’re about to eat (especially when you’re a photography slow-poke like me)? Having to hover over the dish, taking in all the steamy aromas, while futzing with the lighting and props. It’s just torture, man. Torture. The things we do for our blogs.
Herbed Chicken & Dumplings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken (breasts or thighs, or both)
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided usage
2 medium leeks, white and llight green parts only, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
3 tablespoons unbleached white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup milk (I use 2%)
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only (stems discarded)
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unbleached white whole wheat flour (or use a-p flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (I use 2%)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons teaspoons fresh tarragon leaves, minced
2 teaspoons teaspoons fresh parsely, minced
2 teaspoons chives, minced
1. Make the Stew: Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 4 to 5 quart Dutch oven or large stock pot over medium heat. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken in a single layer and cook until golden brown on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate to cool slightly.
2. Add the remaining oil to the Dutch oven and heat. Add the leeks, onion, carrots and a pinch of salt, and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir well to coat. Add the sherry and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits. Stir in the broth, milk, thyme, and bay leaf.
3. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into small pieces and add to the pot. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover and stir in the tarragon. Taste and add salt and pepper to suit.
4. Make the dumplings: In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Microwave the milk and butter in a microwave-safe container on high until just warm (do not over-heat), about 1 minute. Stir the warmed milk mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until incorporated and smooth. Stir in the herbs.
5. Drop dumplings by the spoonful (about a heaping tablespoon each) on top of the stew, about 1/4 inch apart. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the dumplings have doubled in size, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve.