Enjoy this comfort food classic, Chicken and Dumplings, loaded with homemade herbed dumplings. Thick and creamy with lots of chicken and light, pillowy dumplings, it’s the perfect cold-weather dish to bring family and friends around the table. A great meal to serve visiting guests at the holidays!
As a full-on foodie who adores soup, I have lots of favorites. I know, I know: “favorite” is supposed to be singular.
It’s so hard, though, to narrow down the field of soups to just one, when all of them have their charms and moments to shine. I mean, there’s nothing like a super-flavorful, extra-chilled, blended-smooth gazpacho on a steamy August day, right?
But in the heart of dreary winter, a thick, savory bowl of chicken soup, with complex layers of vegetables and herbs simmered in a creamy — but not overly indulgent — broth, finished with a honeycomb of dumplings, is exactly the restorative formula that brings the feeling back into our chilled bones.
The really beautiful thing about Chicken and Dumplings is that it’s a straightforward recipe with exceptional results. The chicken soup: easy peasy. The dumplings: stir, scoop, and drop.
And as I said in the intro, it’s a crowd-pleasing dish that’s meant to be shared, whether gathering loved ones around a cozy meal, or dropping off comfort food for someone who really needs some extra love and care.
Start the Soup!
We begin by searing the chicken. This does two things: it adds flavor to the chicken itself, and the bits and juices left behind by the chicken will add a boost of flavor to already-flavorful vegetables. No need to cook the chicken all the way through, it will finish later in the soup.
If at all possible, don’t skip out on the leeks: they’re simply fabulous in chicken soups. No worries about oniony overkill — yes, I’m also using onions here, but the leeks add their own very welcome, unique charms.
Saute the vegetables until soft, 8 to 10 minutes or so. The carrots will be the sticking point here, as they’ll take the longest to cook. Notice in the ingredients photo above that I actually grated the carrots, for quickest cooking.
Texture-wise, I think the vegetables should essentially disappear into the mix. Not melt away, no, but rather when you chew, you don’t really notice their volume, and there shouldn’t be a “crunch.” The focus is on the dumplings, after all!
Chicken and Dumplings hovers right on the edge between a stew and a soup: it should be thick and creamy, but still fluid enough that you really want to eat it with a spoon.
Sprinkle the flour over the softened vegetables and stir everything until disturbingly pasty. No worries — it’s supposed to do that! If the mixture is too sticky, just stir in a splash of the broth to loosen everything up.
Cook the mixture for a few minutes to eliminate the rawness of the flour, then add the sherry to the pan. If the pasty vegetables stuck to the bottom, the sherry will lift everything away (called deglazing), and adds a lovely, sophisticated flavor to the works.
Add the remaining liquids, plus the herbs, and bring to a simmer while you prepare the dumplings. The chicken should be cool enough to handle by now, so slice it up or shred, and add it to the pot, too.
Make the Dumplings!
No special equipment or electronics needed here: just a bowl and spoon! Heat the butter and milk until very warm — I microwave them in a glass measuring cup for about a minute — and then stir in to the dry ingredients in the bowl, along with the herbs, until just combined. Don’t fall for the temptation to keep stirring until smooth.
The dumpling dough will be rough and bumpy, and both sticky and not sticky ;). Don’t forget the baking powder, which gives the dumplings a puffy boost and sends them into cloud territory.
One of my big-time personal preferences for soup is that each of the ingredients fit comfortably on a spoon. You should never have to take a knife to soup or stew!
When adding the dumpling dough to the soup, keep in mind that they will expand to almost twice their size, so you’ll want to use what seems like rather skimpy little dough balls in your chicken and dumplings.
I use the perfectly-sized #30 Vollrath disher, which is about 1 tablespoon. The beauty of the disher is that it not only forms perfect dumpling rounds, but easily releases the dough into the soup, so you don’t have scrape it out with a second spoon.
And now, leave things to simmer while you set the table and enjoy the irresistible aromas!
Chicken & Dumplings
For the Stew
- 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken (breasts or thighs, or both)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil , divided usage
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 medium/large leek , white and llight green parts only, thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion , diced
- 2 medium carrots , diced
- 1 large celery rib, chopped
- 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose 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
For the Dumplings
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 scant tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons fresh tarragon leaves , minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh parsley , minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh chives , minced
Make the stew
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and the butter in a wide, deep skillet or 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 shimmers, add the chicken in a single layer and cook until golden brown on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes (they might not be done on the inside – that's okay). Transfer the chicken to a plate to cool slightly.
- Add the remaining oil to the Dutch oven and heat. Add the leeks, onion, carrots, celery 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 and browned bits. Stir in the broth, milk, thyme, and bay leaf.
- When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred or cut into small pieces and add to the pot. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Uncover, remove the bay leaf, and stir in the tarragon. Taste and add salt and pepper to suit. Maintain heat.
Make the dumplings
- While the stew simmers, 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. Stir in the herbs.
- Drop dumplings by the spoonful (about a heaping tablespoon each – I use the #30 Vollrath disher) 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.
Originally published January 16, 2012