New-South Chicken and Dumplings — Down-Home Comfort
Why is it that so many comfort food classics start with a chicken in a pot? Chicken and dumplings is quite possibly the best cold-weather comfort food combination — thick, hearty stew married with fluffy, tender dumplings. There are two primary schools of thought when it comes to dumplings: dropped or rolled. Dumplings are essentially biscuits simmered in broth. The broth flavors the dumplings and the flour from the dumplings helps to thicken the stew.
My grandmother's dumpling recipe was basically her recipe for biscuit dough rolled out and cut into strips. She started with a whole chicken and the entire process took a couple of hours; it was time-consuming. Frankly, when I am in need of comfort food, I often find my patience can wear a bit thin and I'm not into "time-consuming."
Dumplings can be a bit tricky. It's easy to wind up with heavy, pastelike dough balls. Ugh. There are recipes out there using canned biscuits, but with these easy-breezy dump-and-stir drop dumplings you can have wholesome, homemade, down-home comfort in a snap — made with ingredients you can pronounce. The secret is using warm milk. The heat expands and sets the flour so that the dumplings don't as readily absorb the chicken stock in the stew.
By starting with boneless, skinless chicken, I've trimmed down the cooking time to a respectable 30 minutes. I've also added carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach to make this stew into a more well-rounded one-pot meal. (You could add parsnips, peas or chopped winter greens such as kale or collard greens as well.) Just make sure the vegetables are cut small enough so they will cook in the same amount of time as the dumplings.
Scratch chicken and dumplings in about half an hour — now that's down-home comfort.
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother's country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y'all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.