by Bettye Rozier Gibson
Surely, those of the literate world know the medicinal values of mom’s chicken soup or a steaming bowl of oatmeal, but what about a large plate of chicken and dumplings cooked up southern style? If no research scientist is exploring the health benefits of such a delectable dish, he or she should be, for I can attest to the value of chicken and dumplings from my own long history. I also can avow to the healing powers of chicken and dumplings, and first-hand I can swear by such a dish for its improving my personal conditions of depression, grief, the common cold, and certainly hunger pains … to name just a few.
Oh, those poor Yankees who will be forever ignorant and who will never even put their lips on such fine eating vittles. But to get on with the story behind the chicken and dumplings and behind the recipe, which has been perfected by the renowned (to the Jonesboro area anyway) cook, yours truly.
I fondly remember the times my mother went out the back door, chased a young frying hen of about 3 pounds around the back yard, caught the unsuspecting bird, jerked it around and proceeded to wind the chicken up as if she were getting ready to throw the final strike-out pitch of the ninth inning of the World Series.
Who among you also had a mother who was a chicken neck wringer? The poor chicken and its head were promptly separated and the headless body jumped wildly around the yard until it kneeled over dead. Into the kitchen with a single bound, Mother submerged the carcass into a pot of boiling water, cooled it slightly and began to pluck the feathers from its body.
After a good singeing over an open flame on the gas stove, she gutted the chicken, washed it several times, and put it into a large boiler of cold water, turned on the flame, and proceeded to simmer the chicken for several hours while she whipped up a batch of dumplings, some fresh vegetables, and a pie or two. No slouch in the kitchen was my dear mother--she was a W-O-M-A-N!
Being somewhat squeamish in these modern times and not nearly as barbaric, I use a slightly modified version of chicken and dumplings. First, I head for the local Kroger, Wal-Mart Supercenter, or wherever fresh meats are sold. I select a plump, fresh looking chicken of 3 or 4 pounds, trying all the while not to think about how that chicken made it to the local supermarket.
Hurrying home and into the kitchen, I soak the bird in a large bowl of cold water to which a teaspoon or two of salt has been added. After soaking the chicken, I rinse it well, being sure to take out the giblet package, and then I add carefully washed giblets to a pot of cold water into which the whole chicken is placed. I bring the pot to a slow boil, reduce heat, and add the following spices. Use the ones with the flavor you like—omit those you don’t care for.
*1 chicken bullion cube
*½ teaspoon black pepper
*½ teaspoon lemon pepper
*¼ teaspoon or more of ground sage
*1 teaspoon seasoned salt
*½ teaspoon garlic powder
*¼ of medium sized sweet onion
*2 to 3 ribs of celery, washed, trimmed, broken into 2 to 3 pieces
Cover the pot and simmer chicken and spices on low heat until chicken is falling from the bones.
Cool whole chicken, then remove skin and bones, cutting chicken into chunks. Refrigerate the de-boned chicken.
Note: Make dumplings while chicken is cooking and let dough rest in a covered bowl until ready to roll out, or refrigerate the dough.
* 3 ½ cups plain, all purpose flour
* ½ teaspoon salt
* ½ teaspoon baking powder
* 6 Tablespoons of Butter Flavored Crisco
* ½ to 1 cup of whole milk (or just enough to make dough stick together)
Blend ingredients with a fork or pastry blender. Add enough milk to make soft dough. Cover dough; wait till chicken is fully cooked or refrigerate.
When chicken has been removed from chicken broth, removed the pieces of onion and celery. You can strain all the broth if you wish to have a clearer liquid. The wonderful flavor will remain. Add 1 cup of whole milk and ½ stick of margarine or more to broth. There is nothing low-calorie about this food, but one can reduce calories by using light margarine and skimmed milk.
Divide the dough into three balls. Roll out each ball of dough, one at a time, on a flour-covered board or waxed paper. Roll dough thin. The secret to great dumplings is thin dough. Cut dough into two-inch strips, and then cut strips into 2-inch, or bigger squares.
Bring broth to a slow boil and slowly drop dumplings, one at a time, into the hot broth. Reduce heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Repeat procedures with dough until all the dough has been used.
Add de-boned chicken and simmer for about 15 additional minutes if you can wait that long. The aroma is going to be mighty tantalizing.
Dish up on a large plate or in a bowl. Add a wedge of freshly baked cornbread and have a feast suitable for a king or a queen—or a good old southern Bubba or sweet Charlotte.
If you are entertaining guests, or the local Methodist preacher has dropped by at meal time, you can choose from one or more of these down-home sides:
pink-eyed, purple hull peas
sliced, home-grown tomatoes
fresh green beans
speckled butter beans
a glass of sweet tea
. . .and on and on.
You Southern cooks by now are beginning to get the whole picture of just what to serve. For my taste, the chicken and dumplings is a complete meal in itself. Seconds are definitely allowed. I swear that after you waddle from the table to a comfortable recliner or sofa for a nap, when you wake, you will be ready for a small piece of chocolate or lemon meringue pie for an afternoon snack.
A Mississippi Delta native, Bettye Rozier Gibson now lives and teaches in Arkansas.
Read more of her articles at USADEEPSOUTH!
Southern Comfort Recipes
IRON is a Four-letter Word
My Own Amazing Grace
E-mail Bettye: gbgibson
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