Winter is certainly approaching us here in Toronto. Though today was a particularly mild day, it was still nice to put together this comfort food classic - chicken and dumplings. Not only is it like medicine for your immune system, but it is scrumptious. My friend Michael was over to help take the photos and enjoy this tasty lunch with me.
I took four boneless, skinless chicken thighs and diced them into bite sized pieces. If you insist, you could use white meat chicken though I find that it tends to go stringy when placed in stews or soups. It's up to you though. You're the commander in chief of your soup!
I prepared a mirepoix, which is the French term for a combination of onion, carrot and celery. After melting a bit of ghee (clarified butter) I added the mirepoix to the saucepan and sautéed over medium-high heat for a few minutes until the onions began to go translucent. By the way, that is one of my favourite smells in the world!
I added salt and freshly ground pepper. Then I continued to move everything around in the saucepan to brown all the sides of the chicken while they take on the flavours of the aromatic mirepoix. The salt also helps to render some liquid out of the ingredients. Once all the chicken was cooked on the surface I placed the lid on the saucepan and let it bubble away for 20 minutes. The liquid helps to steam and cook the chicken through while all those flavours continue to get more and more intense.
This was my opportunity to get on with the dumplings. I combined 3/4 cup of cake flour, 1 3/4 teaspoons of baking powder, a pinch of salt and a few leaves of fresh thyme into a bowl. Then I slowly incorporated 1/2 a cup of milk while whisking with a fork to create the batter.
It ends up to be a bit thicker than pancake batter. Then I set that aside while I waited for the chicken to finish. Every five minutes or so I gave the chicken and veg a little stir and placed the lid back on.
When the chicken was ready, I added a small handful of flour into the pot and stirred for just under a minute. The flour coats everything and the heat cooks the bit of rawness out of it. The flour will help to thicken the soup and give everything a little more body. I also added more fresh thyme at this point.
This is the part where your good quality chicken stock goes in. Between a tetra pack and a container of organic stock that I had from St Lawrence Market, I ended up adding a little over 5.5 cups. Raise the heat and bring the soup to a boil. At this stage I also added a generous pinch of cayenne pepper and pressed a couple of cloves of garlic but those are completely optional steps.
The method I prefer to make the dumplings is by taking a spoonful of the batter and shaping the dumpling with another spoon. What you end up with is a kind of football shape (American football, that is). This is a French pastry method referred to as making a 'quenelle'. It may look "chefy" but it's really quite easy.
Plop the dumplings into the hot soup. Make sure they stay separated. This recipe will yield about eight dumplings. Remember to make them smaller than how you want the finished product to look, because the dumplings swell and increase in size as they cook and soak up some of that amazing broth. Place the lid back on the saucepan and let it cook for an additional 20 minutes.
Once your 20 minutes are up, your soup is essentially ready. I added about 3/4 cup of frozen peas for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Be sure to skim any fat or skin from the top that may appear and like anything else you cook, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
How easy is that? Please try this incredible soup sometime soon. It's perfect for those cold winter days when you want something to warm you up that's light but still packed with flavour. It's a good idea to make more than what you'll actually need because like all soups and stews, the flavour gets even better the longer it sits in the fridge. Just be sure to eat it up within a week.
One last note, I used cake flour to make the dumplings which is lighter and less glutenous than all-purpose flour. You could absolutely use all purpose flour if you prefer or if it's what you have on hand. I prefer the cake flour because the dumplings will end up a little fluffier but that's just my personal taste.
Thanks to Michael for taking all the pictures. Thanks to the rest of you for reading and hopefully trying this out for yourself.
Be happy and stay fed,