[102] Chicken and Dumplings with Parsnips and Leeks

Cover of Cooking for Two

When I wrote up the entry for “Potato Leek Pizza,”:http://metacookbook.com/archives/189-95-+-96-Pioneer-Womans-Pizza-Crust-and-Potato-Leek-Pizza.html I mentioned that part of the reason I’d picked it was because I figured leeks would be at the farmers market.

What I didn’t mention was that, when I went to go buy the leeks, I forgot to write down how many the pizza recipe called for, so I bought about a gazillion too many. And then we didn’t use as many as it called for, so we really had too many leeks.

This recipe, and the next two after it, are what resulted from the excess of leeks.

Not that it uses a lot of leeks, mind you. It is a recipe built for two people. However, I was looking for something, anything, that would use up my leeks and wouldn’t feed us the same thing for days on end.

A recipe for two was a good start, and this is what came of it.

h2. Ingredients

14 1/2 oz chicken stock (They call for a can this size. I just used some of the vat of poultry stock I’d made a few days prior.)
1/2 c + 2 tsp all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg (I did not grate fresh, but used the ground I had in the cupboard.)

1 tbsp solid vegetable shortening (I used butter. I also begin to wonder if I should just buy or render some lard.)

3 tbsp cold milk

2 6 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, each cut into 4 equal pieces

1 tsp mild paprika

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium parsnip, thinly sliced (I peeled mine too.)

1 leek, white part only, halved lengthwise, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, and thinly sliced

2 tbsp fresh or 2 tsp dried parsley (I used dried.)

1 tsp fresh or 1/2 tsp dried thyme (I used dried.)

h2. Instructions

Bring the stock to a boil over high heat in a small sauce pan, and reduce to 1 1/4 c (about 3 min of boiling).

Make the dumplings by combining 1/2 c flour, 1/4 tsp salt, the mustard, nutmeg and baking powder in a bowl, then cutting in the butter/lard/shortening with a pastry cutter or two knives (or a small food processor for extra awesome) until the mixture resembles course meal. Stir in the milk to make a dough, then make 6 dumplings about the size of ping-pong balls. Cover and set aside.

Season the chicken bits with the paprika, pepper and remaining salt. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then swirl in the oil and add the parsnips and leeks. Cook until the leek is limp (~2min), stirring frequently. Sprinkle the remaining flour evenly over the vegetables, cook for 10 seconds, then stir well to incorporate. Add the chicken pieces and their juices to the skillet, cook for 2 minutes, turning once. Sprinkle in he parsley and thyme, then pour in the reduced stock. Bring the stock to a boil, stirring constantly and scraping up and browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

Lightly set the dumplings on top of the simmering mixture. Cover & reduce heat to low. Cook for ~15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the dumplings are tender. If the stew starts to stick to the pan, reduce heat further. Once the chicken is cooked through, take the pan off the heat and let it stand, covered, for 5 min before serving.

h2. Cooking and Consumption Notes

h3. Cooking

Aha! A more complicated recipe! Woo! Let’s take it from the top.

It’s fairly easy to reduce your stock more than the required amount. Don’t worry too much about this, though, because the idea is mostly to concentrate the chicken flavors, according to the first step in the cookbook. I would be concerned with reducing the stock a great deal, like by half, but only because I would be concerned the dumplings wouldn’t cook. In my specific case, I reduced from 14 1/2 oz to 11 1/2 oz instead of to 12 oz, and that was fine. If I were to make this again, I might even go down as low as 10 oz, but no more. Hard to gauge, but that’s my estimate. In essence, don’t worry if something prevents you from stopping the boiling right at 3 minutes.

Now. I once owned a pastry cutter, because Bill once gave me one (before we lived together). I haven’t ever used it, though, because I misplaced it fairly quickly. My old roommate thinks it might still be at her house, but isn’t sure. If I’d had a pastry cutter, I would have tried to use it, but I didn’t, so I tried two forks.

Two forks really didn’t do what I was looking for. To be honest, this is partially due to my bullheaded insistence on not owning or using shortening. I think in this case, unlike pie crust1, the differences matter less, but in both cases you’re trying to minimize the amount of melting your “solid” fat does as you’re mixing. To make up for the fact that two forks (or two knives, as some pie crust recipes suggests) never, ever works for me, I eventually tossed them to the side and pulled out the 4 c food processor Bill’s dad got us for Christmas this year.

Now THAT made me a coarse meal!

The dumplings are not actually terribly cohesive, which is frustrating, but I was able to make 6 roughly equal-sized dumplings with minimal trouble out of it, so I wouldn’t change the ratio of liquid:fat:flour in the future. I’ll just grumble about the crumbs that are left behind. Okay, okay, and possibly add just a touch more butter. If I ever did go to using lard or shortening, I would start again from exactly the recipe and see how that did before tweaking it.

The rest of the recipe is pretty straightforward. When you sprinkle the flour over the veggies, that is a moment to be pretty precise on timing. Since there’s no stirring or adding of any liquid right away, I think (in my decidedly-still-learning-to-cook-opinion) that the flour could burn pretty easily if you let it go too long before adding the stock or stirring.

Once you do add the stock, definitely stir vigorously to get up all that fond on the bottom of the pan. Assuming it’s not burned, that is pure deliciousness right there, folks.

Finally, an issue I had with this recipe was that it told me to cover and cook for a time, but also to do something if the stew starts to stick. When I read, “Cover and cook”, that is what I do. I rarely check before the time is up to see how things are going in there. However, I presume that this is not common, given that the recipe gives directions that basically assume you’ll look, and Mark Bittman’s recipes (especially for beans) explicitly say, “cover and let cook, undisturbed” when that’s what you need to do.

And that’s my thoughts on the cooking.

h3. Consumption

This is a recipe reportedly scaled for two people. I served it to three of us. That was the wrong choice.

Of course, I made this choice because the other things we’ve made from this book, most notably the “Coq Au Vin”:http://www.metacookbook.com/archives/142-73-Coq-Au-Vin.html have definitely been more appropriate to feed to three people than two. In fact, I think this might be the first recipe we’ve made from this book that didn’t effectively serve three. Still, we made it work. We served it with a nice salad, and that certainly helped. I don’t think I made a dessert that night, but I suspect all of us found a little something later as well.

Better, right now, to err on the side of not quite enough food than a little too much food.

The dumplings were not a hit. None of us disliked them, but the nutmeg flavor overpowered everything else in the dumpling, and it was weird. It didn’t fail to be savory, but it was strong enough that it was discombobulating to taste in a savory dish. I don’t know that I would eliminate it entirely, but it has got to be reduced some, at least.

Otherwise, the dish was overall quite good. A fairly quick recipe, with good flavor in the stew. The leeks and parsnips were delicious, I say. Of course, I really like parsnips most of the time, so I would.

Basically, this is a solid version of a classic comfort food. As the original doesn’t easily scale down, I have a hard time being disappointed at a rating of “solid”. I doubt it’s nearly the same as anyone’s “Grandma’s recipe”, but it will get the “comforting” and “hearty” jobs done.

fn1. Did I ever post a second pie crust recipe? I have no idea. I’ll have to go check.