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The Universal Dumpling

Chicken and Dumplings Chicken & Dumplings
by John Raven, Ph.B.

Every society has its version of the dumpling. A dumpling is simply dough cooked in a liquid. In Texas when you say "dumpling", everyone thinks chicken and dumplings, the traditional Texas one-pot meal that has been around for a long time.

Traditional chicken and dumplings is made from stewed chicken. The chicken is cut up into serving size pieces and then stewed with seasonings, mostly black pepper, celery and onion. In my family, the back, neck, wings and the giblets were reserved for making another stock at a later time. When the chicken parts were done, the dumplings were added and cooked covered until done. Isn't that simple?

The chicken pretty much came out the same every time. It was the dumplings that had variety. My mother used a dough made of flour, salt, baking powder and shortening. It was really just a simple biscuit recipe. The dough was dropped in about one-third cup amounts into the boiling pot. The lid was replaced and, in about 15 minutes, the dumplings were done.

The variety came from several factors. First of all we started with what are now called "free range" chickens. That is the chickens lived outside, scratched around and ate what they could find. In the time of year when there were lots of green plants for the chickens to eat, their internal fat turned a bright yellow. This yellow fat had a delicious flavor and gave the dumplings a yellow tinge.

Dumpling Dough

The consistency of the dough was influenced by the amount of handling it received before being consigned to the pot. A lightly handled dough would result in light, fluffy dumplings. Dough that had considerable handling would come out with a consistency more like a pasta. We called the difference, "puffy" or "slick". There were and still are people who have a preference for one of the two varieties.

All my life I have heard of Apple Dumplings. As best I know, I have never met one nor talked to anyone who has. Of course, I had to research the dish a bit. The apple dumpling is a peeled and cored apple which has been seasoned, wrapped in pastry and steamed or baked. There are many options on this recipe. Some apple dumplings are fried.

Which brings us to the method(s) whereby you can construct your very own dumplings.

One of the most important things about dumplings is the broth or stock you cook them in.
One of the most important things about dumplings is the broth or stock you cook them in. In an earlier article, I have some words on making stock. If you are making chicken and dumplings, the chicken can either be cut into the size I suggested, or you can remove the cooked from the stock and cool it enough to remove all the meat from the bones. Be sure and get all the little bones and gristle out. Then you return the meat to the pot. You can use just chicken breast for your chicken and dumplings, but the dark meat of the chicken has the best flavor. I lean in the direction of chicken thighs for most of my chicken dishes that do not call for a whole chicken.

You can make cheater chicken and dumplings.

First off, you can go ahead and make your stock, but use canned biscuits for dumplings. I would cut the canned biscuits into quarters. You can also use cut up flour tortillas, which make "slick" dumplings and don't puff up much, but they taste good. If you don't want to make a stock, you can get a couple of cans of chicken broth. You can use canned chicken in the recipe.

The last batch of dumplings I made were a modified pan de campo recipe. (Pan de Campo is the state bread of Texas.)

Pan de Campo Dumplings

  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • water
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
Mix the dry ingredients. Add enough warm water to make a fairly stiff dough. Work in the 2 tablespoons of oil.

Drop into boiling chicken stock a heaping tablespoonful at a time. If you want to get fancy, keep the dough dryer than normal and form into balls about the size of golf balls. The dough should not stick to your hands if you got enough oil in it. Try to keep a single layer. If you stack the dumplings they will not cook properly. Use a wide pot. Cover the pot. The dumplings should be done in 15 to 20 minutes. You can remove one and check it.

Traditional Dumplings

  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt well. Cut in the shortening. Add enough warm water to make a fairly stiff dough. Drop by large tablespoon fulls into the boiling broth. Cover. Should be done in about 15 minutes.

Slick Dumplings

  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 cup milk or water
  • 1 egg slightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cut shortening into flour with pastry blender. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Roll out on a floured board to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 1x2-inch strips and drop into the broth. Cover and cook about 10 minutes.

As I said earlier you are not restricted to just chicken. Beef and dumplings is good, too. Just cut some decent beef into bite-size cubes, season with salt and pepper, dredge in flour and brown in a little shortening. Use a good beef broth.

When the inspiration strikes I am going to invent Fruit Dumplings. I can see taking something like cooked dried apricots, wrapping them in dough and then deep-frying them. Drain them on paper towels and then put in dish and cover with hot pudding, more than likely vanilla.

If any of you good folk would like to try this before I do, have at it and let me know how it works.

See ya next month.

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