Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chicken in da Pot, Chicken in da Pot

It got "cold" here yesterday and we were pissed. Our relocation from Long Island to Charleston was 90% weather related. It's not as simple as "the NY winters are really getting to me".  It's dead serious. We cannot function without warmth and sun. We are creative folk, so a day without sunshine is a day without inspiration.

The only thing I could imagine doing was getting the house warmed up with a pot of something simmering away, wafting deliciousness about the house. I have been cozying up to my Mastering the Art of Southern cooking quite a bit recently so I had a good idea of what I'd be making to cheer us up. I also didn't have a ton of ingredients and wasn't terribly inspired to head to the grocer, so the decision was easy.

Chicken and Dumplings.

Many of the dishes in MTAOSC are based in deep history. Who would think a big steamy pot of chicken and biscuit-like dough would be a classic Southern dish, with the weather typically being, well, scorching? This dish was made from necessity and frugality. One chicken could create a large and satisyfying broth to flavor the dropped dumplings to feed a large crow of hungry workers or families. The broth could simmer unattended, only to get more delicious by dumpling dropping time.

I've had a few different versions of this dish. There are the noodle-like dumplings (a Penn Dutch specialty) that are available frozen fresh in the supermarket, commercial biscuit mix varieties, broth loaded with veggies, others very straight forward deep, rich broths. I don't dislike any of them (although biscuit mixes are starting to taste just wrong to me) but this version was hands down the best. A wonderful co-worker brought me in a big container of the frozen, ribbon-like chicken and biscuits that I devoured, but I missed the chewy-tender mouthfeel of a dropped dumpling (maybe that is the matzoh ball nostalgia I have from living just two miles from Riverdale, NY for a year. Warning: don't experience your first pregnancy within a two mile radius of stellar Jewish delis. I may have broken a first trimester weight gain record. Even referred to our little one as "our little matzoh ball" or "our little latke" for quite some time). Nathalie Dupree's recipe (pg. 371) includes dropped dumplings, bursting with black pepper to add warmth without high spice.

The broth was simple: 1 whole chicken cut up, covered with chicken broth or good stock, an onion quartered, a carrot roughly chopped and a hot pepper. I was out of fresh peppers, so I put a dollop of sriracha sauce in the pot in it's place. Rooster, baby.

Dream Big and Spicy
I simmered the chicken for 1.5 hours, removed it from the pot and set it aside to cool before skinning, deboning, and shredding. I don't see why a store-bought rotisserie chicken wouldn't work here. You can remove the meat and place the bones in the stock for a while to give it good flavor. It certainly won't be as good, but it will do in a pinch!

**Note: I had a great pic of the shredding/deboning but my darling husband thought it too gnarly.**

Defat your stock by skimming well (a fat separator gadget is great for when you don't have time to chill your stock for easier fat removal) and boil it until the flavor is where you like. I like a rich stock that could stand on it's own so I boiled about 12 minutes. A cup of milk is add to enrich and now your stock is ready for dumplings!

Dumplings are simple and tough to mess up. Flour, baking powder, salt, shortening, milk & a generous grinding of fresh pepper are are they require. Maybe it's all in my head, but using the highest quality ingredients here seems to make this super-simple dumpling extra special. I use White Lily flour (a soft winter wheat), Rumford powder, and Spectrum Organic shortening. The shortening is non-hyrogenated and so clean tasting. The cost difference is minimal when using such small quantities, so splurge for you and yours. Cut the shortening into the flour, salt, powder & pepper. Add the milk ( I use raw milk--but now I'm sounding snobby) and lightly mix to form a nice, soft dough. Be heavy handed with the pepper, you will thank me. Teaspoonfuls are now dropped into the boiling stock, reduce the heat to simmer, cover, and let the dumplings plump up for 10 minutes.

Heavenly. Simple. Steeped in tradition!

Haaay Sexy
It was tough not to add neatly diced carrot, celery, and onion to this dish but it really didn't need a thing.  I was so surprised by how deep the flavor and how wonderfully textured the dumplings were. It certainly lived up to it's aroma :)

I had to get some veggies in our meal but didn't want separate dishes (we ate cuddled on the couch with deep bowls in our laps). I had a humongous bag of local kale from a roadside stand. I also still had a nice chunk of hog jowl in the freezer from New Years Day, so I decided to braise some kale to top our bowls. This sin't a recipe from MTAOSC, so I am including it for you all. It's a nice combination of my EYE-talian heritage and my newfound affinity for the South. It's a wonderful way to serve kale, which is loaded with nutrients and flavor. You can of course substitute bacon, ham, smoked turkey, or even  vegan bacon or hot dog (GASP!) for the jowl. It's there to add some additional flavor and a contrasting texture. You could omit it completely or crispy fry some shallot for crunch. Okay, sure, you can do none of the above and the braised kale will be delicious!

Braised Roadside Kale

8 cups washed & roughly chopped kale
1/4 lb chopped hog jowl (or 3 slices of bacon, or 1/4 lb of smoked ham.....)
2 garlic cloves peeled & sliced
a good pinch of red pepper flakes
Plenty of salt & pepper
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the jowl. Slowly allow it to render fat and soften, I add a couple of tablespoons of water to help the process. Once rendered and looking like blanched bacon, remove some of the fat (you can leave apx tablespoon). Add fresh olive oil and increase the heat to crisp up the jowl. Once crisp, set aside to drain and add the sliced garlic and keep it moving well around the pan, as to not burn. When the garlic has softened, add crushed pepper flakes and kale, stirring well. The kale will deflate quite a bit and be more manageable. I added just a bit more water (1/4 cup), covered the pan and allowed the kale to braise for 4 minutes. Remove the lid, season with salt & pepper and top with the crisp jowl.
You can always braise longer, depending on how tender you like the kale.

So how did we beat the "cold" in the end?

How 'bout dem dumplings?



  1. This looks so good, I wanna crawl inside of it and get it pregnant! Love me some soup. And I made braised kale for the first time ever last week. G loved it!

  2. I totally took the bowl behind the junior high! I'm overnighting you some jowl.

  3. I wrote grass fed milk. How did nobody catch that nonsense?! Raw milk, I meant raw.