by David Cecelski
When my mother was a little girl growing up in eastern North Carolina, she looked forward to the times that a car or truck accidentally killed one of her family’s chickens. Much to their misfortune, the birds sometimes wandered onto the dirt road that ran in front of their house. A chicken’s demise meant that my mother and her family would be having chicken for dinner, which, during those Depression years, was a treat. Otherwise, they usually only cooked a chicken for holidays and other special occasions, like when they served Sunday dinner to the preacher.
We don’t eat road kill much any more, but we do still relish a pot of chicken. A plate of chicken and dumplings, in particular, might be the best comfort food ever. I also just find that making a pot of old-fashioned chicken and dumplings is a great pleasure. I especially enjoy making the dumplings.
These photographs are from a few weeks ago, when my friend Tim Tyson and I had a hankering to make chicken and dumplings together. The first day we made the broth: in a big pot, we cooked 3 or 4 chickens (we aimed to feed a crowd) with onion, celery, carrots, parsley, salt, black pepper, thyme, oregano, a bay leaf, and a little red pepper. We cooked it long and slow.
To make the dumplings, we first mixed flour, salt, and baking powder. Then we stirred in a cup of the hot chicken broth for every 3 cups of flour. We stirred them together good, then turned the dough out on a floured cutting board and rolled it out with a rolling pin.
We cut the dough into long thin strips, then cut it again cross-wise, so that we had hundreds of 3 or 4-inch strips. We laid them out on a floured counter and let them dry for an hour, so they would hold together when we put them into the hot broth.
After that hour, we heated the broth to the edge of boiling and started dropping the dumplings into the broth. We stirred the pot as we added dumplings. Then we put the chicken meat back in the broth and added fresh lemon juice, black pepper, and a couple splashes of Tabasco sauce to the pot.
We heated the dumplings probably another 30 minutes, until they were nice and soft. Finally, we added fresh parsley from my garden and began serving up bowls of chicken and dumplings.
Mary Rothfuss says
David, I loved reading about your mom’s serendipitous chicken dinners. I think of her often. She definitely had a special light that shown through clearly. I’ve come upon your writing via Facebook when a friend posted your piece Pimiento Cheese & Liver Pudding. You make me want to travel NC & eat the local delicacies.