Chicken and dumplings is like a big ol’ hug.
Like some hugs, this dish can be awkward and unsatisfying. You know the type of hugs I mean — the ones where you’re not quite sure if you should be giving or getting, and the resulting mash-up of bodies just leaves both parties scratching their heads in “What was that?” Yeah, I’ve had some chicken and dumplings like that — with dry chicken and leaden dumplings, where you take a bite and wonder, “What the heck is this? And why am I eating it?”
Then there are hugs that wrap you in a cocoon of warmth and security, that feel so right you never want to let go. New Orleans Chef John Besh’s “Chanterelles, Chicken, and Dumplings” is that kind of perfect hug.
It’s from his new cookbook, “My New Orleans: The Cookbook” (Andrews McMeel).
It’s a modern, slightly spiffed up version of this classic down-home dish that will comfort you even if you need no comforting at all.
Skinless, boneless chicken thighs are brined for an hour to ensure they’re extra juicy, so plan accordingly when making the dish.
The chicken pieces cook on the stove-top in a broth infused with aromatic ginger, garlic, shallots, thyme and sage. A big pinch of crushed red pepper flakes adds a touch of heat that really helps warm your bones on a chilly evening. Golden chanterelle mushrooms and peas (I used frozen at this time of year) add color and depth. A knob of butter adds richness (Hey, it’s a Southern dish, after all).
The dumplings are made of mostly ricotta and egg yolks, with just a tad of flour to bind everything together. Teaspoonfuls are dropped into a separate pot of boiling water for less than a minute, then fished out, and gently added to the pot of chicken.
The result is a soupy bowl of moist chicken, regal chanterelles with their subtle apricot-like flavor, and a fragrant broth of which you’re sure to want to spoon up every drop. And the dumplings? Delicate and ethereal, like little clouds floating along for this most flavorful ride.
Try Besh’s version of chicken and dumplings. It’s a hug worth waiting for.
Chanterelles, Chicken, and Dumplings
Besh writes: Often, when I roast a few chickens, I’ll save those delectable chicken oysters (the little nuggets of the chicken back that look like oysters), or I’ll use meat from roasted chicken legs for this dish. For cooked chicken, don’t brine the chicken first, reduce the amount of stock to one cup, and follow the process from sauteing the chicken with shallots, garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes.
For the chicken:
1/4 cup sugar
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup fresh chanterelle mushrooms, halved lengthwise
Leaves from 1 sprig of fresh thyme
Leaves from 1 sprig fresh sage, chopped
1/2 cup shelled sweet peas or shucked, peeled fresh fava beans
1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground black pepper
For the dumplings:
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 egg yolks
1 pinch nutmeg
1/3 cup flour
Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh chervil
For the uncooked chicken, dissolve sugar and 1/4 cup salt together in 1 quart cold water in a medium bowl. Add pieces of chicken thighs and let them marinate in the brine, refrigerated, for 1 hour. Drain chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.
Heat olive oil in a wide heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add chicken and saute until it is no longer pink. Add shallots, garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes, reduce heat to moderate, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in chicken stock, and simmer until the liquid has reduced by nearly half, about 5 minutes.
Add chanterelles, thyme, sage, peas, and tomatoes to the pot. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add butter and season with salt and pepper. Cover and reduce heat to low to keep chicken and vegetables warm while making dumplings.
For the dumplings, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil, then reduce heat to moderate to maintain a very gentle boil.
Combine ricotta with egg yolks, nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium mixing bowl. Gradually stir in just enough flour to form a soft dough. Test dumpling dough before adding more flour by dropping a small spoonful of dough into the boiling water. Once the dumpling floats to the surface, let it poach for 45 seconds. If the dumpling breaks apart while cooking, you’ll need to add a bit more flour to the dough and test again. Just don’t overwork the dough or it’ll become tough.
Drop remaining dough by teasponfuls into the boiling water and poach dumplings for 45 seconds after they bob to the surface. As soon as they are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer dumplings to pot of chicken and vegetables.
Serve chicken and dumplings in bowls and scatter chervil on top.
From “My New Orleans: The Cookbook”
More: Read my Q&A with Chef John Besh