Heirloom Chicken and Dumplings

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You hear about family heirlooms, and heirloom vegetables, but you never hear about heirloom recipes. There really isn’t a name for recipes that are passed down through the generations, other than family recipe, but there should be. And not just the recipes, and the actual dishes, but the family stories that usually accompany them – childhood memories of the foods at family dinners, words of wisdom, family traditions. Who knows what will come out when the generations cook together?

Yesterday I made chicken and dumplings from my great grandmother’s (my maternal grandpa’s mother) recipe. It’s funny, but I don’t ever remember my grandmother making these at Sunday dinner or any other time. My mom remembers her making them when she was growing up, always serving them with green jello and green peas. I can’t remember my mom serving them with anything in particular, but I know we never had green jello with them.

Mom usually cooked a chicken to make the broth, then removed the chicken and made the dumplings in the hot broth. I made one too many really tough chickens this way, and moved to baking the chicken. I then make broth (see yesterday’s post), or buy it (yes, canned broth works just fine, though it is never as good), and add the cooked chicken when the dumplings are almost done, just to heat it up. You can also serve the chicken on the side. I have since found out that I shouldn’t have been boiling the chicken, but simmering it over lower heat to avoid the tough meat. It makes a big difference. I never thought to ask Mom why my chicken was so tough!

These aren’t fluffy, leavened dumplings, but more like thick noodles. The dumplings themselves are just chicken broth and flour – a lot of flour. Be prepared to get your hands into it.

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I copied the original recipe from the recipe card mom had, and other than the broth, there were no measurements and the directions left a lot to intuition and trial and error. Mom worked alongside me the first time I made them when I was in high school, and I used to like to watch her make them before that, so there was a lot of mentoring going on. Since I can’t be in your kitchen with you, I tried to make the directions as detailed as possible, so the recipe looks long, but it isn’t hard. And I tried to take lots of pictures, which involved washing my hands a lot since I didn’t want to get flour on the camera. Please post in the comments if you have any questions at all.

Great Grandma’s Chicken and Dumplings
from The Cook’s Life
serves 4-6, with leftovers

Start these 45-60 minutes before you want to eat. Or you can make the dumplings up to stacking them on the plate and cover them tightly with plastic wrap for a few hours, if this suits your schedule better. If you do this, be sure you only make a single layer, either on several plates or on a baking sheet so they don’t stick together.

5-6 cups chicken broth, homemade or good quality canned*
3-4 cups all-purpose flour, approximately, divided
Flour for rolling out the dough
Cooked chicken**

Heat the broth in a 6-quart pan over medium heat until boiling. Measure one cup of hot broth into a medium mixing bowl. Cover the rest of the broth and lower the heat to low while you are making the dumplings. You can also heat just one cup of broth in the microwave and wait to heat the rest of the broth until you are ready to cook the dumplings.

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Add 1 cup of flour to the hot broth in the bowl and stir to combine. When you have a thick batter that is shiny and satiny looking, add another cup of flour and continue stirring. You should now have a soft dough.

Keep adding small amounts of flour until no more will stir in. Heavily flour your counter or a bread board and scrape the dough out of the bowl. Knead the dough, adding flour until you have a very stiff dough and no more flour will knead in.

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The dough will no longer stick to your fingers and will feel almost dry when there is enough flour mixed in. The dough will not feel at all bouncy or elastic.

If you haven’t already, start the broth heating over medium heat until it is boiling. Keep the lid on the pot so the broth will not evaporate and reduce while it is heating.

Cut your dough in half and place one half aside, with the upside down mixing bowl over it to keep it from drying out. Flour your work surface again and begin to roll out the dough. You are working to get it as thin as possible, ideally less than 1/8 of an inch, and closer to 1/16 of an inch if you can manage it.

If the dough starts to bounce back and resist rolling, throw a towel over it and walk away for five minutes. When you come back the gluten in the flour will have relaxed and rolling will be much easier. If the dough sticks to the rolling pin or the rolling surface, add more flour. Flour is your friend in this process.

When you have the dough as thin as you can make it, cut it into approximately 1-inch wide strips. Cut the strips into 2-3 inch pieces. Lay the dumplings out on a dinner plate, sprinkling flour between the layers so they don’t stick to each other. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

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When all the dough has been cut into strips, and your broth is boiling, you are ready to cook the dumplings.

Add the dumplings to the broth, a few at a time, stirring all the time. If the broth stops boiling, wait until it boils again before adding more dumplings. When all the dumplings are in the pot, stir it gently, cover the pot and lower the heat to medium low.

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Stir the dumplings every 5-10 minutes, but stir gently so you don’t break them up too much. Keep the lid on the pot when you aren’t stirring it. Lower the heat slightly if the dumplings are sticking to the bottom of the pot, but keep the broth simmering. The broth will thicken into a gravy as the dumplings cook.

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After 20-25 minutes, taste part of a dumpling to see if it is done. It should be a little softer than pasta, but not chewy or raw-tasting. Add the chicken to the pot, if desired, when the dumplings are cooked. By the time you set the table and put the dumplings in a bowl, the chicken will be hot.

*You can simmer a whole chicken or bone-in chicken pieces to make your broth, adding vegetables of your choice to flavor the broth. Or you can make Something from Nothing broth. If you would rather not make your own broth, use good quality canned broth, preferably low-sodium.

**If you aren’t cooking the chicken to make your broth, you can use leftover baked or roasted chicken in your dumplings.

Download the recipe here.

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10 thoughts on “Heirloom Chicken and Dumplings

  1. Sorry girl, I don’t get this. Basically these are just wide noodles, cooked in chickenbroth instead of water ? I always thought dumplings were filled dough things, more like potstickers.

    • Hi Ria,
      These are one kind of traditional Southern/Midwestern American dumplings. There are also drop dumplings which are more like little drop biscuits cooked in broth or stew. These are pretty typical of Southern cooking. My dad’s mom, who was originally from Mississippi, made her chicken and dumplings like this too. I think there are as many types of dumplings as there are different cuisines in the world!

  2. Looks delish! I’ve been wanting to try these for a while but it seemed so difficult… the detail in your recipe is very helpful… thanks!

    • Let me know how you like them if you try them. I always thought these were what chicken and dumplings were – both sides of my family made them this way. Try them, they are delicious! 🙂

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