Saturday, February 9, 2008
chicken and dumplings
It seems like almost everyone was trying to upset my apple cart this week. Remember that new gym I told you about? The one I liked so much? Yes, "liked." Past tense is appropriate here because I showed up for my workout on Monday only to find that the place up and shut down over the weekend. Nothing says quality customer service like closing shop without giving your members any warning.
Apple cart antagonist #2 was my temporary assistant at work. My fantastic regular assistant had to take a 3-6 month leave of absence to care for a sick family member. Since he left on short notice, we brought in someone from a temp agency to help us get by until we could find a more permanent solution. Well this guy -- we'll call him "Pebble" -- was a disaster. Even though he (supposedly) had a master's degree, Pebble had a difficult time mastering simple tasks. For example, one day our computer network was down, so the office was basically at a stand-still and everyone was waiting for for the technician to call and say they could start working again. Pebble's job was simply to let me know as soon as the technician called. When I didn't hear from Pebble for about an hour, I went out to ask him about it. Do you know what he said? "Oh, I was going to tell you the IT guy called a while ago." Great, Pebble -- thanks to you, we've just paid everyone here to stand around for an hour. He did lots of ridiculous things like that over the course of his brief tenure, but yesterday was the last straw. When I realized that Pebble hadn't checked the company voicemail for two weeks (though he did have time to check his appearance in his compact mirror and trim his nails at the front desk), I decided it was time to send him on his merry way. So I did.
And, finally, in an act of pure brilliance, I sucked up (and broke) my favorite gold necklace with the vacuum. Anyway, it doesn't really matter that all these people...and vacuums...were after my apples this week, because the great thing about it being my apple cart, is that I'm the one who controls the apples. So despite their best efforts, my apples and I are no worse for wear.
I think I'm all done talking about apples. Let's move on to chicken and dumplings, or, more specifically, the world's best chicken and dumplings. If you've never watched America's Test Kitchen on PBS or picked up one of their cookbooks, you're missing out. The chefs on the show (also the editors of Cooks Illustrated) make classic dishes with every brand and variety of ingredient imaginable to figure out which combination will yield the absolute best meatloaf, chocolate bunt cake, or in this case, chicken and dumplings. They do all the work, and you get a no-fail recipe to add to your collection. What could be better? I first made this recipe about three years ago and have been looking for an opportunity to make it again. With tender chicken that falls right off the bone and dumplings that are warm and fluffy -- nothing like the gooey globs of dough produced by most recipes -- this makes a perfect meal for a relaxed Saturday evening.
Chicken and Dumplings
An America's Test Kitchen recipe
Serves 6 to 8
[Note: Do not use low-fat or fat-free milk in this recipe, and start the dumpling dough only when you are ready to top the stew with the dumplings.]
5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick
2 ribs celery, sliced 1/4" thick
1 large onion, minced
6 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sherry
4 1/2 cups organic, free-range chicken broth
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen green peas
3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Table salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons reserved chicken fat or unsalted butter
To make the stew:
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken and cook until golden on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and remove the browned skin. Pour off the chicken fat and reserve. Return the pot to medium-high heat and repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and the remaining chicken. Pour off and reserve any chicken fat.
Melt the butter in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the flour. Whisk in the sherry, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the broth, milk, thyme, and bay leaves. Nestle the chicken into the pot. Cover and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and tender, about 1 hour.
Skim the fat from the surface and remove the bay leaves. If desired, removed chicken from pot, shred (discarding bones), and then return to pot. Stir in the peas and parsley and season to taste.
To make the dumplings:
Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Microwave the milk and fat on high until just warm, about 1 minute (do not over-heat). Stir the warmed milk mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until incorporated and smooth.
With the stew still at a simmer, drop golf-ball-sized dumplings over the top of the stew, about 1/4" apart. (You should have about 18 dumplings.) Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the dumplings have doubled in size, 15-18 minutes. Serve.