Secrets to a thicker country-comfort-food classic
Seems like most chicken and dumpling recipes are too thin and soupy for my taste. And they leave guests fighting for their fair share of dumplings. Not my recipe! When proportioning it out, I accounted for those common shortcomings and created the best possible dumplings-to-chicken ratio. My recipe is thick, soul-warming, simple as what Granny used to make and has enough tangy buttermilk dumplings to satisfy everyone. Like most Depression-era recipes, this one is inexpensive and will feed about eight adults.
By Tim H. Martin
1 whole chicken, cut up
4 quarts (1 gallon) cold water
3 sticks celery, chopped
3 carrot sticks, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
Kosher salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
3 cups, self-rising flour
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup buttermilk diluted with 3 Tbls. cold water
Bring the chicken, carrots and celery to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for an hour, or until the chicken loosens from the bones. Skim the foam and fat periodically. While the chicken simmers, prepare the dunklins (see Making the Dunklins).
When the chicken is done, remove the pieces and allow them to cool. Strain the broth and discard the celery and unwanted bits, but reserve the carrots. Next, add the stick of butter and salt and pepper to the broth. When the chicken has cooled, pull the meat into bite-sized pieces and return to the broth.
Raise the heat to a low boil, then toss in the dunklins (which you've already prepared) and give them a good stir.
Tim's Dunklin' Secret 1: BOIL FOR ONE MINUTE. Allow the dunklins to come to a boil in the broth for one full minute before shutting off the stove eye and removing the pot completely from the heat.
Tim's Dunklin' Secret 2: DO NOT SERVE FOR 30 MINUTES! After you've boiled the dunklins for one minute and removed the pot from the heat, it's important to allow it 30 minutes to cool (no lid) and properly release the starches, as well as thicken and increase the flavors. Stir every 5 to 10 minutes to prevent clumping. A little clumping is a good thing, but I believe that this final step is the key to GREAT dunklins.
Making the Dunklins:
In a large mixing bowl, stir table salt into the flour with a fork or whisk.
Mix or cut-in the shortening into the flour until it's finely and evenly mixed. I do this with my hands.
Next, stir the buttermilk/water mixture into the flour a bit at a time with a fork. When all the liquid had been added and roughly stirred into the flour, knead the dough until it's an even consistency and won't stick to your hands. It's okay to overwork dunklin dough. Allow the dough time to rest if possible, about 20 minutes, before rolling.
Next, take fist-sized portions from the dough heap and roll them on a flour-dusted board with a rolling pin. The dough should be rolled until it's the thickness of a tortilla, or even thinner. Flour your hands and pinch the dough into pieces about 1 1/2- to 2-inches in diameter, reserving them on a plate until they're ready to go into the broth.
More About Dunklins
How "Dunklins" Got Its Name
The first time I made this thicker recipe, my son Graham was about three years old. He emptied his first bowl, held it up and cried, "More DUNKLINS, Daddy!" Our family laughed, but Graham's word seemed to better describe the heartiness of the dumpings anyway. The name stuck.
Another notable aspect of this recipe is that often, thin dunklins will cling together, creating a super dunklin. Those are the ones worth fighting for!
Keep the Carrots!
When straining the broth, save the carrots in a bowl, toss with margarine and sprinkle with salt and pepper. They make a tasty and healthy snack to serve guests while waiting those agonizing final 30 minutes from Secret Step 2.
The Wishbone Game
Save the wishbone to play a traditional kid's game. Carefully remove from the chicken breast and allow it to dry. Invite two children (or fun-loving adults) to make a wish, grab an end and pull the wishbone until it snaps. The person who comes away with the largest piece is the winner and lucky wish-getter.
Dunklins will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. The flavor and thickness improves overnight, but it's difficult to keep the dunklins from breaking apart during the reheating process. Try sprinkling a little water on top of them and microwaving to reactive the dunklin-ey goodness, stirring as gently as possible.