On Saturday, The Beloved and I attended a dear friend’s older brother’s memorial service. Rich was one of a kind. His family requested that his favorite song, The Wheel by The Grateful Dead, be played at his service. The Episcopalian priest who officiated told them that he could lose his job if he did, but he used the text of the song for his homily, referencing Voyage of the Dawn Treader to boot.
Everyone who knew Rich had a favorite Rich Story. This one is mine. One day as Rich was working in his yard, some Jehovah Witnesses approached him. Rich never shied away from conversation, so he engaged them. They stood talking on his lawn for about 45 minutes. At one point, Rich had them bend down to grab a handful of dark, moist earth, telling them that this was what it was all about. I wonder if those Jehovah’s Witnesses still talk about their encounter with Rich.
After the service, we all returned to Julie and Scott’s house, which is right across the street from the house where Rich, Scott and their sister Cindy grew up. Lots of the guys played Frisbee in the street, using Rich’s discs from his Ultimate Frisbee days. As daytime shadows lengthened into early evening shadows, the game was periodically interrupted when someone would shout “Car!” They’d all grudgingly move aside only to resume their positions as the car passed, much as slushy ice reforms in the wake of a slow-moving ice breaker. Those cries of “car!” took me straight back to my childhood, as I played with many of the same people in the same neighborhood thirty-five and forty years ago.My dad was scheduled to have a pacemaker inserted (implanted?) on Monday morning at 6:30am, so I drove to my parents’ home on Sunday afternoon while The Beloved drove home so he could go to work. What we thought was to be an out-patient endeavor turned into three days. First we were informed that dad would be spending the night and be able to go home Tuesday morning. That added one day to my trip, since I’d planned on being home Monday evening. By Tuesday late morning, dad was told he’d have to stay because one of the leads was loose and needed to be more firmly implanted. That happened around 7:30am yesterday, and he made it home around twelve hours later. Needless to say, he and mom were exhausted. I had headed home Tuesday afternoon and spent yesterday curled up in a fetal position on the couch and streaming shows through Amazon Prime.
I’m happy to report that dad is doing very well thus far, so that’s a good thing. Still, after memorial services and surgeries and delays, I find myself wanting nothing more than comfort food today.
While it is still quite warm and sunny here, the breeze is cool and holds a promise of autumn. The chill breeze and a whole free-range chicken in the fridge were all the incentive I needed to make a big vat of chicken and dumplings. Southern Chicken and Dumplings. Flat or slick dumplings. Some folks even call it chicken and pastry. No puffy, bready dumplings for me, friends. Give me deep, rich chicken flavor in a broth that clings with dumplings you can cut with the side of your fork. I don’t need “crumb” in my dumplings. I leave that to bread. Just a little puff from baking powder, and some smoky goodness courtesy of bacon fat.
Southern Chicken and Dumplings
You don't have to use bacon fat in the dumplings. You don't even have to season the dumplings. But I think you'll be happy if you do both!
Notice I'm not giving weights here. No need to be super precise, even with the dumplings.
- 1 small fryer/roaster (3-ish pounds)
- 1 quart organic chicken stock
- 1 medium onion , washed and quartered
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 15-20 whole black peppercorns
- 2-3 cups filtered water
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour mixed with 1/2 cup cold broth , stock or water until there are no lumps.
- 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning (or a pinch each of rubbed sage and dried marjoram)
- Additional salt and pepper , to taste
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning (or a pinch of rubbed sage and dried marjoram)
- several grinds of black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon solid bacon fat
- 1 Tablespoon butter or shortening (or sub 2 Tablespoons of either if you don't want to use the bacon fat)
- 3/4 cup whole milk (feel free to sub in 2% or skim if you'd rather)
In your pressure cooker or a Dutch oven, place the chicken, boxed stock, onion and peppercorns. Bring up to pressure and cook at high pressure for 15 minutes. (If using a Dutch oven, simmer over medium-low heat until the chicken is cooked through. You may have to flip the chicken to get it to cook evenly).
Carefully remove all the meat from the carcass and set aside to cool. Refrigerate after it has cooled off some, about 30 minutes.
Return the carcass to the pot. Add enough additional water to almost cover the chicken.
Put the lid on the pressure cooker and cook at high pressure for 1 hour to produce a lovely stock. (If using a Dutch oven, this will take 3-4 hours at least. You can skip this step entirely if you want and just use some extra boxed stock).
Strain the stock into another pot, pressing down on the solids.
Skim off as much of the fat as you want. I probably ended up skimming off about 1/4 cup of fat. Save this. It's schmalz, and it's gold.
Add the flour slurry to the stock along with the poultry seasoning. Bring to a boil to thicken the sauce.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
Bring to a very low boil. Drop dumplings (procedure below) into the pot, a few at a time so they don't stick together.
Cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until dumplings are cooked through.
Return the reserved chicken to the pot to reheat.
Serve in bowls with a fork and a spoon. Have some good bread or rolls handy to sop up the extra sauce.
Grin like an idiot and enjoy!
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, poultry seasoning and black pepper.
Drop in the bacon fat, if using, and butter or shortening and rub in with your fingertips until it is completely incorporated. No pea-sized pieces here. You want it to disappear.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stream in the milk.
Bring the dough together with a fork. It will be fairly wet.
Liberally flour your counter. Scrape the dumpling dough onto the floured surface. Liberally flour the top of the dough and roll out into a rough rectangle about 1/8-3/16" thick. If the dough sticks, add some more flour to assist with rolling, but don't knead it in. Use your dough scraper to lift the dough and toss some flour underneath and add some to the top as necessary.
Brush excess flour off the top of the dough. Cut into 2"x3" rectangles (don't measure--just use a pizza cutter and go for it), and they're ready to be cooked.
If you are in need of comfort, I hope you try these southern chicken and dumplings. They’re good for what ails you. And you’re already feeling good, they’ll make you feel even better.
Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. I hope you have a lovely day.
Yet one more reason for comfort: I literally just received a call from my mom, and she had her sweet China put to sleep today. China was fifteen years old and the best girl in the world. We will all miss her so very much, but she is resting now.