Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chicken and Dumplings... Quest for the Holy Grail

Growing up in the South has its benefits. The most important and formative one for me was being raised in a family of great cooks. One of the highlights of my childhood was the comfort food classic, chicken and dumplings. We always assumed that making this dish was an all day affair for my grandmother because of the way she disappeared for hours and the way the finished product was doled out over steamed white rice to stretch it further. It's probably more that she enjoyed time away from everyone in the haven of her kitchen, where she was undisputed master of her domain, because you'll notice quite a few shortcuts in the recipe below. If you were lucky you got a second helping. If she really liked you, she would even make chicken and dumplings especially for you on the occasion of a visit. I was very often a lucky recipient of this cherished and coveted special dish, and I'm happy to gloat about it now!

The real challenge for everyone in the family, myself included, has been to accurately recreate the recipe. It's been handed down from my grandmother, to my mother, and eventually in 2004 the recipe was published in a sort of Christmas card that was given to the entire family. I have tried cooking the recipe as it appears on paper, but there is some magic that isn't exactly happening for me. So, I continue to experiment and try new methods. For such a simple dish, it's surprisingly tough to get it just right without the benefit of a hand that has made this dish hundreds of times.

Today, with the first hint of a wintry chill in the air, I'm craving my grandmother's cooking. I will take to the kitchen in my quest for the holy grail with high hopes of capturing the elusive perfect bowl of chicken and dumplings. Wish me luck!

Grandma Daniel's (elusive) Chicken and Dumplings

In a large Dutch oven, boil 2 or 3 chicken breasts with celery, onions, and carrots. Use a combination of chicken broth and water to fill pot about 2/3 full. When chicken is cooked, remove it and chop or tear into bite-sized pieces. Mash up the vegetables in the broth and strain the liquid. Return the liquid and the chicken to the pot. A couple of chicken bullion cubes can be added to water if you don't have canned chicken broth.

Use one package of Mrs. B's frozen biscuits for the dumplings. Roll the biscuits thin between sheets of waxed paper that has been floured lightly. Cut into thin strips.

Return broth to a boil and drop biscuit strips one at a time into pot. Don't stir! They can be poked down with a fork. Reduce heat to medium and cover. After 20 minutes of cooking remove lid. Dumplings should be tender.

Stir in about 1/2 stick butter and a 5 ounce can of evaporated milk. You can also stir in a can of cream of chicken soup.

Serve over rice.

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