I’ve been thinking this week–probably more than anyone should–about what it means to be a perfectionist. I never considered myself one before; fussy, maybe; needly and exacting at times. Oh, and I have been known to cut cookie bars with a ruler, but I never thought it was about being crazed with perfection–I just don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t use a tool readily available to them.
Nope, I’m thinking that being a perfectionist isn’t about so much what you do, but how you react when little, obviously unsubstantial things go wrong. You over-browned an edge of the cake but it has absolutely no bearing on the final flavor. You accidentally measured wrong and now the aforementioned brownie bars aren’t all even.
I confess, this is not my strong suit. I can be a little… impatient. (Alex, stop laughing. Stop it!) I kind of want what I want. But I’m not above falling in love with a dish that doesn’t give a damn about my desire to control its every aspect. In fact, sometimes, messy and deliciously imperfect is just what I needed, whether I realized it initially or not.
The recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated, but by way of a writer for Philadelphia Style Magazine, Joy Manning, who had been kind enough to think of me for an article she wrote this fall (PDF a few bullets down over here) about food blogging. I’m very awkward when I find myself under the spotlight, so when I said thank you, I tried to change the subject and find out if she had a favorite recipe and guess what–she did!
And now I owe Joy an extra thank you. I had never had chicken and dumplings before, but wow, are they tasty and just perfect for the freezing winter when you need something substantial. We even finished the leftovers. Now, I’m not of the belief that chicken soup can cure a world of problems–I don’t think it’s going to fix everything just yet–but I am the kind of person who likes to live in hope, and who thinks it’s easier to deal from a place with a belly full of warmth.
Now go get yours, too.
One year ago: Boozy Baked French Toast
Chicken and Dumplings with Leeks and Tarragon
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, February 2005
CI notes that you should not use low-fat or fat-free milk in this recipe, and that you should start the dumpling dough only when you’re ready to top the stew with the dumplings.
Serves 6 to 8
5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Table salt and ground black pepper
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
2 medium leeks , white and llight green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, minced
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen green peas
3 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons reserved chicken fat (or unsalted butter)
1. For the stew: Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken and cook until golden on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and remove the browned skin. Pour off the chicken fat and reserve. Return the pot to medium-high heat and repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and the remaining chicken. Pour off and reserve any chicken fat.
2. Add the butter to the Dutch oven and melt over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, onion, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the flour. Whisk in the sherry, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the broth, milk, thyme, and bay leaves. Nestle the chicken, with any accumulated juices, into the pot. Cover and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and tender, about 1 hour.
3. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Discard the bay leaves. Allow the sauce to settle for a few minutes, then skim the fat from the surface using a wide spoon. Shred the chicken, discarding the bones, then return it to the stew.
4. For the dumplings: Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Microwave the milk and fat in a microwave-safe bowl on high until just warm (do not over-heat), about 1 minute. Stir the warmed milk mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until incorporated and smooth.
5. Return the stew to a simmer, stir in the peas and tarragon, and season with salt and pepper. Following the steps below, drop golf-ball-sized dumplings over the top of the stew, about 1/4 inch apart (you should have about 18 dumplings). Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the dumplings have doubled in size, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve.
To make the dumplings: Gather a golf-ball-sized portion of the dumpling batter onto a soup spoon, then push the dumpling onto the stew using a second spoon. Cover the stew with the dumplings, leaving about 1/4 inch between each. When fully cooked, the dumplings will have doubled in size.