Chicken and Dumplings
A Southern Classic and it’s Japanese Parallel
Growing up, my mother mostly cooked Southern classics. Pot roast and gravy, cobblers, and of course Chicken and Dumplings. It’s an iconically Southern dish that every household makes. Easy to put together and the depth of flavor is, in my opinion, one of the best expressions of chicken.
The history of chicken and dumplings is speculative at best. Some stories have it as a dish born during the US Civil War. Many more have it as a Depression era staple that could use the dumplings to make a filling bowl. From the best I can tell, the first recipe for chicken and dumplings was in a cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia, 1879, by Marion Cabell Tyree. By this time, it was fairly commonplace for people to cook various meats with dumplings. There was even a version of cornmeal dumplings cooked in greens, something I’d never seen growing up, but that I really want to try now.
Most recipes are basically the same. Start by making chicken broth, usually with a whole chicken which is gently boiled until the meat is falling off the bone. Remove the chicken to cool. Maybe sauté some aromatics like onion, celery, and carrot. Add flour and cook to make a light roux, then add chicken broth and sometimes milk. Other’s choose to simply boil the aromatics until soft. Make a biscuit dough, using butter or lard, and roll out (or don’t) the dough to a fairly thin sheet. Personally, I lean toward spoon biscuits where you just scoop some of the dough and drop it in the broth. Get the broth to a simmer. Some people add the cooled and shredded chicken back in at this point and some wait until after the dumplings are almost cooked. Then spoon in or drop in rolled and cut pieces of the biscuit dough. Cook, mostly undisturbed until the dumplings are done. Between the flour in the roux and the flour on the biscuits, the soup with thicken up and become creamy, even if you leave out the milk.
Most recently I cooked Kenji Lopez Alt’s version from The Food Lab. I found his recipe extremely simple, starting with a previously prepared chicken stock, including the meat. You simmer the aromatics, without sautéing them first. Make the biscuit dough, including the use of an egg and buttermilk. He notes that a great dumpling dough uses less fat than a biscuit because you want them to develop a little more gluten. Fat impedes the development of gluten strands, so if you used the same amounts of fat as you would in a biscuit, they would begin to fall apart when you add them to the pot. Finally add the chicken back in, then drop in the cut or spooned in dumplings. Simmer until dumplings have roughly doubled in size. Enjoy. If you are a true carb lover like me, you can serve it with cornbread completely drenched in salted butter. I just love the scraggly shape of spooned biscuits.
As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to gravitate toward more East Asian flavors. A couple of years ago I visited Morimoto’s in Napa Valley. The food was great, but what was really wonderful were the cookbooks that I left with. In Morimoto’s Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking, he gives a recipe for Dango Jiru, Japanese style chicken and dumplings.
At this point, I don’t know how many times I’ve made this soup. It became an instant favorite in my house. The foundation of the dish is dashi broth. It’s loaded with Winter squash, daikon radish, carrots, burdock root, and shiitake mushrooms. The flavor is deep and the deliciousness bypasses your stomach and goes straight to your soul.
As Morimoto states in the book, this is a common “grandmother” dish, found all throughout the Japanese countryside. Much like Southern chicken and dumplings, there are many variations. Some change out the broth or add miso, some use thick noodles instead of dropped dumplings. While I am curious about other versions, I just keep going back to what I consider as close to perfection as any soup I’ve ever had.
I’m weird and love prep. I love all of the veggies in this soup.
And finally the finished bowl.
The next time you want to try something different, thinks about a dish you love and search the internet to see if there are cultural variations on the dish. Who knows, you may just find your new favorite version.
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