Wife Jan has been asking lately for her ultimate comfort food, chicken and dumplings. I am always trying to improve even my best recipes—a change of spice here, a new technique there. Sometimes I will walk into the kitchen and simply follow my instincts on a recipe that I have made several times before. Occasionally it works out rather well.
Chicken breast by themselves can have very little “chicken” flavor. Frying the chicken until well browned brings out the flavor, because of the Maillard reaction—which creates complex flavor molecules. When I first starting making this dish, I would simply fry the breasts on both sides, while this created some flavor it was still lackluster.
I switched to splitting the chicken breast into two thin fillets. While this technique boosted the flavor—more surface for browning— the meat came out dry and tough. Over a year ago, I learned of a America’s Test Kitchen technique of browning hamburger in one large patty—as a way to get a good Maillard reaction flavor without turning the meat into little dried out pebbles. A few weeks ago, I tried this technique with chicken thigh meat and it worked rather well. I wondered if this technique would work as well on breast meat.
To increase the flavor even further, I thought I would marinate the meat a bit before I fried it. I have found that if you are not using ground meat, it is important that you do not add too much liquid—or the patty will fall apart as you cook it. I had added grated onion to my chicken which had left my meat a bit too wet to hold together in a patty. To dry it out, I decided to add some flour to act as a glue and keep things together
After Dinner Note: This came out as my most successful chicken and dumplings yet. Fluffy dumplings and a super rich, chicken-y stew.
Karl’s Chicken and Butter Dumplings II
2 chicken breasts
2 Tbs. yellow onion, grated with a microplane
4 cloves garlic, mashed finely
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. tarragon
½ tsp. black pepper cracked
½ tsp. Kosher salt
2 Tbs. AP flour
1+ Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. butter
1 medium onion
½ tsp. Kosher salt
2 stalks celery
1 large leek, white part only
1 large carrot, grated
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. thyme
¼ tsp. black pepper
32 oz. low sodium chicken broth
2-3 Tbs. AP flour
¼ cup dry sherry
1 cup AP flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. Kosher salt
4 Tbs. butter
⅔ cup milk
1. Cut the breasts into medium small pieces and put them into a medium sized mixing bowl.
Tip: It helps to half-freeze the chicken—20-30 minutes in the freezer—to make it firm enough to slice easily.
Note: Starting at the pointed end of the breast, I take ⅜ inch slices until each slice is about one inch wide. I then take one cut down to where the breast is about two inches wide. I make three cuts in the wide part of the breast and the continue slicing, until I have the whole breast cut into thin one inch pieces or smaller.
2. Add the yellow onion, garlic, thyme, tarragon, pepper, and salt.
3. Fold the chicken to evenly distribute the seasonings.
Tip: I decided that the onion had made the mixture too wet to fry without falling apart and so I decided to add some flour.
4. Mix in two tablespoons of AP flour, until all of the chicken is coated with the starch.
5. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the chicken for at least half an hour.
Tip: A longer marinade is better.
6. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a Dutch oven over a medium high heat.
Note: You cannot transfer the chicken and dumplings to a serving dish, without making an unattractive mess. Use an attractive pot that can double as a server.
7. Form the cold chicken into a single large patty and place it in the hot pot.
Tip: Wetting your hands before handling the chicken will prevent the flour from sticking to your fingers as you make the patty.
Note: Use a spatula to press the patty into an even ¾ of an inch and to pull any bits that came off around the edges back into the patty.
8. Fry the patty undisturbed for 5-6 minutes, until the bottom is well browned.
9. Flip the patty and fry the second side for another 5-6 minutes.
Tip: If your patty is not firm enough it may break in the process of being turned over. Just keep the pieces as large as possible.
10. When the second side is well browned, transfer the chicken to a plate.
Tip: Scrape as much of the fond free of the pot and place it with the chicken on the plate.
Note: The meat patty had a wide area to be well browned, while still protecting the meat in the center. Do not be concerned if some of the chicken in the middle is still raw. By the time the stew is fully cooked this will not be a problem.
11. Deglaze the pot with a splash of water or sherry.
12. Melt the second tablespoon of butter and sauté the onions with a half teaspoon of salt until they start to pick up some color, 5-7 minutes.
13. Add the celery and continue sautéing until the vegetables have softened, four minutes.
14. Add the leek and carrot to the onions and cook, stirring, for another five minutes.
15. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center until fragrant, about one minute.
Tip: You may add a little more butter, if necessary.
16. Stir in the thyme, pepper, and chicken broth.
17. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover the pot.
18. Simmer the stew for 10-15 minutes.
19. Break the chicken patty into bits and stir into to the pot.
Tip: Continue to simmer the stew while you prepare the dumplings.
20. Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
21. Whisk to mix the dry ingredients.
Tip: You may run the flour through a sifter several times to get an even blending.
22. Grate the butter into the flour.
Tip: Fluff the flour with a spatula to coat the strands of butter.
Note: Use a pastry cutter to chop the butter into small bits.
23. Stir in the milk and let the dough rest for 3-4 minutes.
Note: Your dough should become light and fluffy, as the baking powder begins to act. Do not continues to mix the dough at this point or you will knock out the gasses that have formed.
24. Mix 2-3 tablespoons of flour with the sherry,
Tip: Shaking the mixture in a small lidded jar works very well.
25. Stir the sherry mixture into the stew.
Tip: Use a spatula or a flat ended spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot.
Note: You cannot stir the pot after you have added the dumplings. If there is any of the stew that is stuck to the bottom of the pot—and in danger of scorching—there is nothing you can do about it after this point.
26. Spoon large scoops of the dough around the top of the stew.
27. Simmer the stew uncovered for 10 minutes.
28. Cover the pot and continue simmering for another 10-15 minutes, until the dumplings are cooked through.
Tip: If you have an instant read thermometer, simmer until the dumplings have an internal temperature of 200º F.
29. Serve the chicken and dumplings directly from the pot.