Chicken and dumplings is an classic Southern (U.S.) that is basically a chicken stew topped with biscuit dough. At my house it is a weekday comfort food, whenever someone is stressed out. Although I make this dish once or twice a month, I realized that I took it for granted and have never posted about it.
There are many variations on the chicken stew. Some recipes use just stewed chicken and a few spices. Others employ a stew based on a simple mirepoix—onions, carrots and celery. The stew may be as diverse and complex as the cook can imagine.
Usually, I make my stew with whatever vegetables I have on hand—a thick refrigerator soup. This time, I thought to use a chicken Marsala stew that I made a while ago, but which I never got around to posting. I also decided to employ some techniques that I have picked up over the last year to produce a thick flavorful gravy.
Note: What you do not want to see in a chicken and dumplings is foamy half dumplings floating on top of a flavorless gloppy gravy with tasteless pieces chicken. That would not be comforting.
In the past, I always used Bisquick for the dumplings for my chicken and dumplings—Jan liked the fluffy texture that this American standard product produced. I find these dumplings to be a bit too salty. I have perfected the art of making light and flaky biscuits over the last year, so I thought to use my biscuit dough instead of a commercial .
Karl’s Chicken Marsala and Butter Dumplings
1¼ cup flour, all-purpose
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
3 Tbs. butter
4 Tbs. minced fresh parsley, separate uses
1± cup milk
1 lb. chicken thighs, boneless
1½ cups Marsala wine, separate uses
1 tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
3± Tbs. ghee, separate uses
½ lb. small crimini mushrooms
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
½ cup celery, diced
½ cup carrots, grated
6 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. thyme
½ Tbs. Mediterranean oregano
½ tsp. black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
32+ oz. low sodium chicken broth
1½ cups green cabbage
1 leek, white part only
2 Tbs. A.P. flour
½ cup red bell pepper
Note: Prepping the dumpling mixture at the beginning reduces the stress of bringing them together at the last minute, while your stew is bubbling away.
Tip: Put a stick of butter in the freezer for 15 minutes, before starting. One of the tricks to good biscuits is to keep the butter as cold as possible.
1. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together three or four times to mix them thoroughly.
2. Grate two tablespoons of butter into the flour mixture and break the shreds of butter into fine pieces with a pastry cutter.
Tip: If you do not have a pastry cutter you may use a fork or squeeze the butter with your fingers until it resembles crumbs. However, be careful not to melt the butter into the flour.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a plate and refrigerate for later.
4. Cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces.
5. Put the chicken in a small bowl and mix in ¼ Marsala wine and ½ tsp. salt.
6. Melt 1 Tbs. of ghee in a large soup pot, over medium high heat, and add the mushrooms.
Tip: I like to use my large cast iron Dutch oven, because it is wide enough to not crowd the dumplings.
7. Sauté the mushrooms until they are well browned, 4-6 minutes.
8. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl.
9. Without cleaning the pot, add another tablespoon of ghee and the chicken pieces.
Tip: Try to leave any excess Marsala in the bowl, but do not discard it.
10. Spread the chicken into a single layer and let it fry for 3-4 minutes, until it is well browned on one side.
Tip: Pick up a piece near the center of the pot to check to see how brown it has gotten.
11. Turn the chicken pieces over and fry the second side for another 2-3 minutes, until well browned.
12. Transfer the chicken to the mushrooms bowl.
13. Without cleaning the pot, add the onions and salt and use the moisture released to deglaze the pot.
Tip: If there is not enough liquid released add a splash of Marsala.
14. When the onions have started to pick up some color, 4-5 minutes, add the celery and carrots.
Tip: One thing I cannot stand is large lumps of overcooked carrot. I like the flavor, but the mushy texture just puts me off. My usual solution to this problem is to grate the carrots finely, so that they break down into the sauce.
15. Sauté the vegetables until they are starting to get soft, four more minutes.
16. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and add the garlic to the hole in the center of the pot.
17. Sauté the garlic for one minute, until fragrant, and then mix in the rest of the vegetables.
18. Add ½ cup Marsala, the bay leaf, thyme, pepper, and cayenne and simmer until the liquid had boiled away.
Tip: Scrape the bottom of the pot well, so that nothing sticks and burns.
Note: I watch a recent episode of America’s Test Kitchen about Drunken Beans. Their solutions to adding a lot of liquor to a dish, without it tasting “boozy,” was to cook the alcohol away with the vegetables before you add other liquids.
19. Transfer half of the vegetables mixture to the bowl with the mushrooms and chicken.
Note: Make sure that the bay leaf ends up in the bowl, not the blender.
20. Transfer the rest of the cooked vegetables to a standing blender.
21. Add ½ cup of chicken broth to the blender and puree the vegetables.
22. Melt the rest of the ghee in the empty pot and then add the cabbage.
23. Sauté the cabbage for 4-5 minutes, until it is just starting to pick up a little color.
24. Add the leeks and flour to the pot and continue sautéing for 2-3 minutes more.
25. Add one more half cup of Marsala to the vegetables and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated.
26. Add the contents of the blender and the bowl of meat and vegetables to the pot.
Tip: Use some of the broth to rinse out the containers, so you do not lose any good bits..
27. Bring the stew to a boil, reduce the heat and cover the pot.
28. Simmer the stew for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Tip: While chicken is simmering, finish making the dumplings.
29. Mix the milk and two tablespoons of parsley into the flour/butter mixture, by gently folding the dough with a spatula.
30. When there is no more dry flour showing, stop and let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Tip: You do not want to overwork the dough. The more you work it, the more gluten is created. This is a good thing for breads, but a bad thing for tender dumplings. Resting your dough allows the last of the dry flour to absorb the last of the liquid without creating more gluten.
Note: You want your dumpling dough consistency to be firmer than a pancake batter, but not so firm as a biscuit dough.
31. Stir the red bell pepper and remaining parsley into the stew.
Tip: Check the seasoning of the stew and add salt and pepper, if needed.
32. Drop 1-2 tablespoon scoops of dough over the surface of the stew.
Tip: The goal here is to cover the stew evenly and completely. However, remember that as they cook, the dumplings will double in size.
33. After you have added all of the dumplings to the stew, cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
34. Remove the pot from the heat and, still covered, let the chicken and dumplings rest for another 10 more minutes.
Tip: Do not lift the lid.
Note: The steam trapped in the pot will continue cooking the dumplings, but by removing the pot from the heat you will not risk scorching the bottom of your stew.
35. Bring the pot, still covered, to the table and present the stew with a flourish.
Tip: The burst of aroma, when you lift the pot lid, is part of the comforting experience.