This week, we’re spotlighting recipes from Southern Soups & Stews: More Than 75 Recipes from Burgoo and Gumbo to Etouffée and Fricasseeby Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books), a collection of hearty, crowd-pleasing dishes from around the American South. Try making the recipes at home and let us know what you think!
Photograph by Leigh Beisch
My friend Sheri Castle grew up near the town of Boone, in Watauga County, North Carolina, and though she has long lived down in the flatlands of the Piedmont, her “mountain DNA” adds deep flavor to her writing and recipes. I love her chicken and dumplings recipe, which is different from what my grandmother made. “There are as many ways to make chicken and dumplings across the South as there are ways to fry the bird,” Sheri notes. “Local loyalties run deep, and people have their favorites. The style used in this recipe hails from my pocket of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We make fluffy biscuit-like dumplings and let them float like clouds atop a simple stew studded with chunks of chicken, bright-orange carrots, and flecks of herbs. This dish is so comforting that it feels restorative.” It would be lovely for someone who is under the weather, but it’s fantastic when you’re well, too. This has some steps, but not one of them is difficult or finicky, and the results repay you for every moment and each effort. Such beautiful soup — bubbling up around the fluffy dumplings, perfuming your kitchen, evoking grins from everyone at your table.
3¾ pounds whole chicken
4 cups chicken stock
3 cups very coarsely chopped whole onions, peel and all, plus 1 cup chopped
2 cups very coarsely chopped carrots, washed but not peeled, plus 1½ cups chopped
2 cups very coarsely chopped celery, including leaves, plus ¾ cup chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
6 fresh thyme sprigs, plus 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ cup butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
2 tablespoons lard, vegetable shortening, or butter, chilled
¾ cup half-and-half, evaporated milk, or milk
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
To make the stew: Place the chicken in a large Dutch oven or stockpot and add the stock, coarsely chopped onions with peels, coarsely chopped carrots, coarsely chopped celery with leaves, garlic, thyme sprigs, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and enough water to cover the chicken. Bring it to an active boil over medium-high heat. As soon as it boils, lower the heat to maintain a gentle but visible simmer until the chicken is cooked to the bone, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a large platter or bowl, leaving the chicken broth and vegetables in the Dutch oven. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and add them to the broth. Continue cooking the broth over medium heat for 45 minutes more.
Meanwhile, shred or chop the chicken into big, bite-size pieces. Cover and refrigerate it. Strain the broth into a large bowl and discard the bones and vegetables. Measure the broth; you should have about 8 cups. If you don’t have that much, add water to make 8 cups.
Heat the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chopped carrots, chopped onion, chopped celery, thyme leaves, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt; stir to coat. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add the reserved broth and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
Season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, if needed, and the pepper. Stir in the reserved chicken and heat it through. Keep the stew warm over low heat.
To make the dumplings: Put the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a medium bowl. Use a pastry blender or your fingertips to work in the butter and lard until the mixture is crumbly and flecked with thin flakes of fat. When pressed against the back of your thumb, a bit of the mixture should cling like a small leaf. Slowly stir in the half-and-half. The dough should be soft and sticky, but firm enough to hold together on a spoon.
Bring the chicken stew to a low boil over medium-high heat. Stir in most of the parsley, reserving a generous pinch to add at serving time.