Chicken and dumplings, like so many of the southern classics, was more than likely born out of the need to stretch a meal to feed a lot of people. Killing a chicken for dinner was not something you did every day years ago on the farm when those chickens laid eggs, eggs that could be sold or traded for other staples you needed, but didn't produce yourself...like coffee and flour or sugar. So if you sacrificed a chicken it was a big deal and you probably only gave up one. One chicken was more than likely not enough to feed a housefull of kids, mama and daddy, and maybe grandma, grandpa and at times the farm hands. This is where using flour to stretch that chicken out and fill a big ole pot full of goodness came in. Nothing fills you up like all that doughy goodness and broth of a steaming bowl of dumplings. The chicken becomes the less important part of the meal when homemade dumplings take center stage. Weren't our southern ancestors smart people?
Chicken and dumplings are also one of those classics that there must be thousands of recipes and techniques for making. Nobody does it just the same. Some cooks put shortening in the dough, some put butter, some use eggs, some just the chicken broth, some people even make them with canned biscuits...you know what I think of that method, if you have read many of my posts...lol. I won't elaborate on it further, but please don't do it. Learn to make them the right way. It's not hard, I promise and even if they aren't perfect, they will be better than made with canned biscuits. I get queasy even typing that canned biscuit thing.
OK, I admit it, I am a bit of a dumpling snob and my mother is to blame for this (just joking..sort of ). Mama would say, of course, "I am to blame, the mother always gets blamed for everything"..in her best Jewish mother's voice (no we are not Jewish, but maybe should have been). She's right by the way. We (mothers) do get blamed for everything, but that is a post for another day. However, in this case, it's a good thing, because my mother can flat make some chicken and dumplings.
My mother credits her dumpling recipe to one of her lifelong best friend's grandmother. When Mama first married, she moved to Louisville, Ky from a town at the time that was much, much smaller. Her best friend's grandmother, Goldie, also lived there and according to my mother, she was the best cook in the world. She made the most wonderful dishes with the simplest ingredients and her chicken and dumplings were to die for. My mother, being a new bride, wanted to learn, so Goldie taught her some of what she knew and chicken and dumplings was one of those things. I think this lady gave my mother something much more than her recipes at a time she really needed it and that was comfort. Mama was a young girl from the country, newly married and moved to a big, unfamiliar city with none of her own family anywhere near her and Goldie looked after her to some extent. I would say that out of all of the probably hundreds of recipes my mother cooks and knows by heart, this one might be the most special to her.
I have been blessed to have my mother around to teach me all of her recipes and she taught me to make dumplings a long time ago and I follow her method exactly, but my chicken and dumplings are never as good to me as my mother's, which is why I went to her to make these for you all. Here is what you will need:
4 whole chicken breasts, with the skin on ( you can use a whole chicken, but we only use the white meat in the dumplings)
2 carrots, peeled and cut in about 2 inch pieces
1 onion, peeled and chopped in big pieces
2 stalks of celery, cut in 2 inch pieces
3 whole bay leaves
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. chicken bouillon granules or 3 chicken bullion cubes
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups self rising flour
1 cup chicken broth, chilled
Place the chicken breasts, the carrots, onion, celery, bay leaves, chicken bouillon granules, and salt in a dutch oven or similar big pan or stock pot and just cover with water. Bring this to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook covered for about an hour and a half or two hours. The chicken should be so tender it is falling off of the bone. It's important to use the skin on chicken with the bones for this because this is what gives you the rich broth for your dumplings. Remove the chicken to cool. Once it has cooled, debone and either shred it or just sort of chop it in big pieces...not itty bitty pieces, they will get lost in the dumplings. We only use white meat in our chicken and dumplings, but if you used a whole chicken do what you like.
Place the strained, clear broth back in your pan. Discard the vegetables and bay leaves. This should be about 3 quarts of broth.Take 1 cup and reserve it for your dumplings. Place it in the refrigerator to chill. If I am in a hurry I put it in the freezer for a bit, but don't let it freeze. Once the broth is chilled, you mix it with the 2 cup self rising flour to make the dough for your dumplings. Mix to incorporate and knead just enough to make soft dough. Do not over work the dough or your dumplings will be tough. You can do all of this prep the day before you intend to serve this and the just store it all in the refrigerator overnight. The dough rolls like a dream if it's cold actually, but I never plan ahead like that and just roll mine out as is. I don't have a problem with them, as long as the broth has gotten real cold before hand. Before you start to roll the dough and make the dumplings, add the cream of chicken soup to the broth and whisk it to mix, and turn it on medium/high heat to bring it up to a boil. You probably won't need any more salt in this, because of the sodium in the canned soup, but taste the broth and season to your taste.
Roll 1/2 the dough out on a floured surface. My mother uses a marble slab which works great, what can I say that's how Mama rolls...lol ( okay, bad I know), but if you don't have one, like me, use wax paper, floured. Roll thin, about 1/8th of an inch.
Sprinkle the dough with a little black pepper to your taste. At home, I use a lot, my mother doesn't care for so much. We use a pizza cutter to cut the dumplings. You can use a sharp knife also. It's so much easier taking pictures when someone else is doing the work!
Cut all the way across in one direction and then cut across them vertically to make sort of rectangles. This does not have to perfect by any means.
This is a better picture of how they will look. Pick up several at a time and start to drop them in the boiling broth. After these are all dropped, stir them gently around ONLY ONCE to be sure they aren't sticking together. If you stand and stir the dumplings a lot, they will break up and you will have just soup. The dumplings will puff some during this since they are made with self rising flour. It's normal.
Roll the second half of the dough and drop these in the broth. Turn the heat to medium and simmer for about 5 -10 minutes uncovered.
Add the chicken and GENTLY stir it in. You can cover the pot now. The dumplings are cooked at this point. Turn down to low. When it is all heated through, the dumplings are ready to serve.
Mama's Chicken and Dumplings!