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Saturday, February 29, 2020

General Store Chicken and Dumplings


I couldn't let this winter pass without posting a few more warm and cozy recipes.  One of the best things about the cooler seasons is the bountiful aromas of slow cooked and sometimes decadent colloquial foods. These tasty morsels can be prepared in a hurry, as in about two hours, others take most of the day. They vary by culture, region, shape, size and ingredients, but dumplings are  enjoyed by the masses, in numerous forms.
 Geographical location seems to dictate the decided form the dumpling should take; long, thin and flat-like or puffy and pillowy orbs.  Research suggests the puffy form is more of an 'up north' thing and the flat more true to its Southern roots.   In actuality, dumplings have been around for centuries, before America was the "land of the free... home of the brave ".  Slaves and other Africans very likely had some influence in its incorporation into our American cooking culture, since they were responsible for the kitchens and structure of cuisine respectively.  Only recently (as in the early part of the last 100 years) had chicken and dumplings become associated with frugality, meagerness and economical fall back. However, that could not be further from the truth.   A dish like this can be dressed up or down, found in the most affluent to the most depraved homes, depending more on the mood, not the money. Just delicious.
Further, in earlier times, chickens were a luxurious commodity; as was cattle, goats, pigs and other livestock, used mainly for its eggs, milks, working the land, transportation, yarn etc...  Meats were not necessarily mandatory for many, too expensive for some.
 On the occasion that one was killed, it was usually old, so cooking it was an arduous task, taking hours, as the rascal was tough and bony, the chickens at least, they were completely free range.
Earlier forms of the dish were undoubtedly more about the dumpling, with the chicken coming in later, more of a side note. I am more familiar with the round, puffed and fluffy shape.  I fashion mine in the shape of a quenelle or football-like. The puffed form is more forgiving and serves as a thickener to the stocky broth that holds the veggies, like kernels of carrot, peas and celery.  If the dumplings come out larger than  initially desired, one simply allows them to cook a little longer and their size will decrease, becoming a part of the soup-like quality of the dish.  Although the dumpling will float quickly, it requires at least 10 to 12 minutes to cook completely, depending on the size of the dumpling of course.
Growing up, there were no recipes passed down per se.  The copy if you will, was to replicate what you'd seen or heard others did before you.  There is no coveted little box with note cards, nor is there some worn, torn and tattered notebook with hues of coffee and tea stains or time worn print, that has stood the test of generational utilization, to flip through carefully, as the pages make a crumpling gift box tissue paper sound.  No arguments here on who the best cook is and who deserves to be the keeper of your grandmother's recipe 'Holy Grail'. For us, they do not exist, at least to the best of my knowledge.
I am from a family where my grandmothers were much older. My father's mother Grandma Lucille, passed away when I was 5, she was born in 1904.  The few memories I have of her consists of the joy she brought to us by finding a quick chore to earn money for the ice cream truck.  I remember she always worn an apron, handmade I'm told. She was partial to Kellogg's Corn Pops, the bright yellow box with red trim sat atop the refrigerator, that observation burns luminously in my mind. Grandma Lucille had fruit trees; pear, apple, peach, as I remember picking up the fallen ones as a chore mentioned earlier.  I bet Gram had a smoking Chicken and Dumpling recipe!  I cannot  ask my dad, as he left to be with Gram and his 3 brothers in 2009. Dad's birthday was the 27th, just passed, Heavenly Happy Birthday to my surrogate brother Floyd(2019), whose birthday was Wednesday, my oldest brother Doug jr.(2007), his birthday was Tuesday. Doug jr. would be 57, Floyd too. Dad would be 82. Alas, I digress. They are dearly missed.
  Sometimes we can substitute ingredients and shave off a step or two, leaving time to expend in another place. The best method is the old fashioned, whole bird way, simmering it with aromatics; onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf and carrot for a flavorful broth on which this dish is built.  The  cooked chicken is removed from the stock and picked from the bones, to be reintroduced later.   I like to cut the breast meat into chunks, and pull the dark meat off in bite sized pieces where possible. For time constraints, boneless chicken breasts may be used, with skin is better, but skinless/boneless as desired.  The bones add body to the broth and a substitute is unlikely to be found.  Store bought broth is ideal for those flavor components. The breast meat should be removed from the stock as soon as it is cooked through, to keep it from becoming rubbery and dry. NO one likes dry chicken.  It may be reintroduced to the stock after the dumplings are cooked.
This recipe is inspired by my hometown and all the beauty and history that it holds for me and my family.  It is an ode to the simple life, with on hand ingredients, made with love.  It is a humble reminder of our ancestral roots, Leesville's historical richness and the revivification of a place we thought we had lost, in particular, Carter's General Store. We have frequented this commemorated and familiar family business, that has been revitalized, after a hiatus of about 7 years.  My family from at least 6 generations back frequented here. They bought their feed, beans, seeds, flour, butter, bait, tackle and other merchandise from this very structure.   It has been refurbished into an amazing and informative bizarre of sorts; chock full of antiques, bejeweled accounts of goings on about and by townsfolk, daily supplies.  Carter's also has a fishing and gaming post, live music entertainment, plus room to hob knob with other locals and passersby alike. I even had my first official book signing for Annie Ware: Adventures in Wordplay here. Last, but certainly not least, get a good ole fashioned signature  Bologna and Hoop Cheese sandwich ( or purchase individually by the pound) cut fresh from their rolls and wheels, cold or grilled, with an ice cold drink and a bag of chips.
 Plus, Carter's General Store offers other specialty goodies like Wagyu burgers, chili dogs, Grilled Hoop Cheese sandwiches, homemade desserts, custom, handmade goods and excellent service.  This store goes way back, just like chicken and dumplings, but good things have a way of hanging around and reinventing themselves, staying relevant, the two share commonality.  Old has become new and our community appreciates its living history, as all of our past familial roads run through it. Welcome Back.

Recipe:
1 fryer, about 4 to 5 lb., cut up into 8 pieces, reserve the wings for another use
4 stalks celery, divided, ribs removed, 2 cut into 1/4 inch pieces, 2 whole
4 large carrots, 2 peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces, 2 whole, halved
1 large onion, cut in half
2 to 3 cloves garlic, smashed or finely minced
8 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed
2 tbsp. butter
12 oz. evaporated milk
1/4 c. AP flour
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf, optional
1/4 c. fresh parsley, roughly chopped
SPST ( Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Olive Oil for drizzling

Instructions:
Place the washed chicken in a large heavy bottomed pot  and fill with stock just to cover.
Add whole celery, halved carrots, onion, and garlic and bay leaf.
SPST.
Bring up to a boil and skim the top of the stock, repeat as necessary.
Reduce heat to medium and cook chicken until cooked through, about 35 minutes, give or take.
While chicken cooks, prepare the dumpling mixture. Time it to be near the end of the cooking process.
Once chicken is cooked through, carefully lift from liquid and set aside on a plate or platter.  Make sure you have enough space to debone.  When cool enough to handle, remove skin, gristly parts and meat from bones in good sized pieces.
Remove stock and strain off, leaving only the flavorful stock to add back to cooking vessel.
Skim off excess fat.*
In the original cooking vessel, heated to medium, add the butter and two turns of the pan of olive oil.
Add chopped carrots and celery.
Add thyme sprigs.
Cook for several minutes until fragrant.
Sprinkle in flour and whisk or stir vigorously with fork or wooden spoon.
After about 2 minutes, gradually add stock back to the pot, whisking or stirring to incorporate.
Bring up to a boil, then reduce to a rolling simmer.
Add milk and stir well.
Check seasonings and SPST as needed.
Here is where you add your dumplings. Dumplings recipe below.
Allow to simmer until cooked through, about 12 minutes or more.
Re-add chicken by sliding back into pot on one side, then stir to distribute.
Simmer all items together for several more minutes to marry the dish.
Garnish with fresh parsley and thyme.
Makes about 10 servings.


*This portion will benefit from refrigeration for a period of about 20 minutes to help the excess fat solidify and can be easily removed. This is not required but optimal, if you have the time.


Dumplings:
 1 1/2 c. AP flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. roughly chopped parsley
1/3 c. milk or stock, more if needed
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Combine flour, baking powder and salt until well blended.
Cut in butter and olive oil, until it takes on a crumb-like texture.
Add remaining ingredients and stir until just blended and completely moistened, careful not to over mix, unless you like a tougher dumpling.
The dough will be a little sticky and that's okay.
Using one side of a tablespoon, make quenelle shaped dumplings and add to simmering stock one by one.
Dipping the spoon  in hot water before each dumpling will help with sticking.


















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