As much as I love experimenting in the kitchen, this is mostly a time to turn to tried-and-true recipes for comfort food, using modest ingredients from our own stash of long-forgotten — and if you’re like me, often unlabeled — freezer items or what we’ve left neglected in the back of our cupboards.
This one-pot take on chicken soup is a heartier version made of a broth thickened with thrown-together dumplings. There are several variations — biscuit-like and dropped on top, or, as I’ve done here, a quick pasta-like dough that you add directly into the simmering broth to both thicken it and cook the dumplings. I usually keep a container in the fridge of leftover bits and ends of everything from a knob of ginger to a partially-used onion, a few ribs of wilting celery, to perhaps a languishing tomato half, and toss it all into a pot when I need a savory broth for soups and braises. If you don’t have a whole chicken, use pieces and keep in mind that dark meat is more forgiving than white meat, which is easy to overcook. If you don’t have chicken, try turkey or fry up some sausages, or even make a fish stew of sorts and add the dumplings. Just make sure to adjust cooking time accordingly. And you can always make this meatless by adding more vegetables and herbs. If you happen have leftovers, it’s even better the next day.
Old-fashioned chicken and dumplings
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 whole (3-to-4-pound) chicken (or bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks)
Vegetable scraps — celery, onion, garlic
Optional spices: garlic powder, turmeric, cinnamon, ground red pepper
1 to 2 carrots, thinly sliced
Optional veg: sliced mushrooms, zucchini, celery, frozen peas and corn
For the dumplings:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons cold unsalted or salted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk or buttermilk
1. Place the whole chicken or pieces in a large soup pot and add water to cover by two to three inches. Toss in any aromatics and vegetable scraps, such as bits of celery or carrot, garlic or onion (you can just smash them with the side of a knife and leave skin on), some ginger or turmeric, and a healthy sprinkling of salt, maybe some peppercorns or a cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium, and let the chicken cook at a medium-low simmer for 30 minutes, adding water as needed to keep chicken covered. Remove chicken to a rimmed cutting board or a large bowl; let cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, remove most of the meat from the carcass. Add carcass and any scraps back to the pot and bring liquid to a low boil. Let cook another 30 to 45 minutes, adding about two cups more water as the liquid reduces. Remove carcass and place a colander in a large bowl and strain the liquid into the bowl. Discard carcass and solid pieces from the broth. Add strained broth back into the pot; add sliced carrots, mushrooms, and any other vegetables you’re using. Add the chicken meat back to the pot. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer 15 minutes or just until carrots and other veg are tender. Taste broth and adjust seasoning, as needed.
2. To make the dumplings: combine flour and butter using your fingers, a fork or a pastry cutter. Stir in the milk and combine. Dust a clean work surface with flour. Place dumpling dough onto the counter and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thick. Add flour, as needed, to keep dough from sticking. Using a knife or ulu or pizza cutter, cut dumplings into squares or strips — they don’t need to be perfect. Dust with a bit more flour, if needed; the flour will help thicken the broth. If your kitchen is very warm, place the dumplings in the fridge or freezer for about 10 minutes.
3. Bring the broth back to a boil, add the dumplings, one at a time so they don’t stick together. Stir and reduce heat to medium-high and let dumplings cook 15 to 20 minutes. The broth should start to thicken. Serve hot with fresh herbs or some grated Parmesan cheese.