This time of year, when it starts to get cold outside, and we reach that point where summer and sun seem so far away that we’ll never reach them, I think it’s best to embrace this and wrap ourselves in the warm succor of something comforting. That’s not to say that comfort food is solely restricted to the winter months—though, for me, it may not be the text book definition for comfort food, but things like seafood risotto, couscous paella, peach shortcakes and Spaghetti with Tomatoes & Black Olives shout “Summer!” from the sun-drenched rooftops all the while wrapping me in a comforting warmth—but now is the time of year for the real heavy hitters.
Personally, I could live on mashed potatoes alone until spring comes back around. However, I’m not the only one I have to feed for the next several months so I have to expand my repertoire. Which leads me to Chicken & Dumpling Soup. It’s really like chicken noodle soup, but better—reason being that, once the dumplings have simmered in the soup they release their starches slightly and give this an almost creamy feeling without adding any actual cream.
Normally my issue with Chicken & Dumpling Soup lies with the dumplings themselves. They’re either too dense and doughy, or too light and fall apart; I don’t want biscuits floating in my soup, nor do I want little clumps of flour in it, making it look more like lumpy gravy than anything. The perfect solution is using some cornstarch in them to give them a light and fluffy texture, and only just enough milk to give you a stiff and sticky dough so they stay together. Drop them in to the fiercely boiling soup (so they don’t stick) in small t-spoon-sized dollops (they’ll expand) before covering and simmering until they’re cooked and tender.
I also like to simmer the chicken with some vegetables to give the broth of the soup some flavor, but I discard them when I strain the liquid—they’ve done their job, their flavor is gone and they’re the texture of baby food by this point (see my full rant on mooshy vegetables in the Shrimp & Chorizo Stew post). So once the chicken is shredded and added back to the pot, I add more chopped carrots and celery for some additional flavor and, because the dumplings go in shortly after, some al dente crunch. You could certainly add frozen peas if you wanted, but I’m just fine without them. For me, peas are what basically separate Chicken & Dumplings from chicken potpie. And my herb of choice for this is fresh dill; there’s something about the slightly anise-y hit, fresh and clean to start before going a little sour, that manages to both calm and accentuate the richness of this, striking the perfect balance.
What’s even better, is that if you have leftover turkey from the holidays and a turkey carcass you don’t know what to do with you can adapt this to recipe to use that up. In place of the whole chicken, simmer the bones from the turkey, preferably with any bits of meat still clung to it, in the water with the vegetables. Continue on with the rest of the recipe as noted, obviously throwing in shredded turkey meat into the finished soup in lieu of chicken.
Winter has never looked so good.
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