Chicken and Parmesan Sage Dumplings
Whenever a family was going through a crisis in my small, Mississippi hometown, be it a death or a serious illness, friends and relatives showed up in droves to bring food. You could rest assured that affixed to the bottom of each container that arrived would be a strip of masking tape containing the name of the person who prepared the dish. Every soul who so generously shared food with the family knew that the piece of tape guaranteed that their dish would be returned.
Almost without fail, some skilled southern cook would arrive with a pot of freshly-made chicken and dumplings. The few times that our family was the recipient of such generosity from the townspeople, the chicken and dumplings always got my attention.
My Mom prepared chicken and dumplings somewhat regularly and whenever they made an appearance on our dinner table, I was a happy boy! Mrs. King, the mother of my neighborhood best friends and one of the most accomplished southern cooks I knew, made chicken and dumplings that were legendary. However, her technique for making them was different than most.
I think of the classic dumpling preparation starting with something similar to biscuit dough made with flour, butter or shortening, and buttermilk. A stewed chicken provides the stock and the dough, rolled out and cut into pieces, simmers in the stock until tender. However, Mrs. King’s version contained egg and the resulting dumplings more resembled thick pasta. Her peppery version of this classic dish rivaled any that I’ve had.
As southern cuisine has become more in vogue and dumplings more ubiquitous, I frequently see recipes for drop versions of this stew. By drop version, I’m referring to the technique of dropping large spoonfuls of a slightly sticky dough directly on top of the simmering liquid. In a previous post, I made a classic Mississippi version of chicken and dumplings where I rolled out the dough and cut it into small pieces. I then submerged the dough pieces into the stock where they cooked until tender. However, for this post, I wanted to try a drop version with a twist. I’ve always considered chicken and sage to be a perfect combination of flavors, so dumplings with sage was a no-brainer. Adding a little Parmesan cheese couldn’t hurt, right? The result was sensational.
I like to leave the vegetables in bigger pieces while cooking with the chicken. If they’re too small prior to cooking they tend to disintegrate. I cut them into bite-sized pieces after the chicken is done.
The base of this soup is chicken stock. As the dumpling cook, you’ll need a thickener for the broth. I’ve started using Beurre manié (French for “kneaded butter”) as a thickener for soups and stews. It’s a fancy name for flour that’s been incorporated into butter. The advantage to using this method is that the flour doesn’t clump in your soup. I use my fingers to blend the flour and butter together. It takes minutes and it’s a quick and easy way to thicken your soup.
For the chicken:
3 quarts water
4 large carrots, peeled and cut in half
3 stalks celery, cut in half
1 large yellow onion, quartered
5 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon salt
1 4-pound chicken
5 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 6 pieces
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Heat water in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaf, salt, and whole chicken. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
2. Remove chicken from pot and cool. Debone chicken and tear into bite-sized pieces. Skim excess fat off the surface of the stock with a large spoon.
3. Remove vegetables and roughly chop. Transfer chicken and vegetables to pot and heat to simmer. Continue simmering for 15 minutes, uncovered.
4. Combine flour and butter, beginning with a fork and then with fingers until it resembles a smooth dough. Add butter and flour mixture to pot and stir until melted. Add thyme leaves and pepper. Adjust salt as needed. Simmer until liquid begins to thicken. Add peas just before topping with dumplings.
1. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles course meal.