Monday, 25 May 2015

Old-Fashioned Chicken Stew and Dumplings

Hello friends. I know it's been a little quiet over the last week or so in the Cooking for Sanity kitchen; sometimes things happen in life to make writing a blog seem like the least important thing one could possibly do, and I certainly haven't been in the right frame of mind to sit down and write about food, even though I've been cooking plenty of it. So tonight, I'm hoping to reignite your taste buds with a delicious, traditional recipe full of rich flavours and textures, and a slightly unexpected but genius ingredient. I've also been wanting to write this up because I was asked a short while ago for some inspiration as to how to use up spare chicken thighs and drumsticks, so I apologise to my friend, for whom I had hoped to make this available this much sooner.

This recipe is adapted from the fantastic and immensely visually appealing Grandma's Best Recipes which I bought in good old M&S quite a few years ago. It doesn't seem to be available at present, and I don't know if that's because it's out of print, but if you do come across it, grab it, because it really does contain some lovely traditional recipes, including a fail-safe toad-in-the-hole, and spaghetti and meatballs. My adaptation of the recipe was reached due to having cooked it quite a few times and having perfected amounts and the method to reach a more satisfactory final meal. I hope it's something you can enjoy with your family too. Because it's cooked for a good while, the flavours develop really well, making it especially tasty for little people.


Please try to avert your eyes from those bedragelled looking spring onions; I was meant to make this the previous week but ended up having to carry this recipe over, hence, they are not at their best looking!

Stew ingredients
2 chicken breasts (or whatever type of chicken you have; thighs or drumsticks will also be fine)
3 carrots
1 onion
1 celery stick
2 large garlic cloves
Handful fresh thyme sprigs
Bay leaf
2-3 tbsp plain flour
500 ml chicken stock
500 ml water
30g butter
Slug of olive oil

Dumpling ingredients
150g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
30g butter
4 thinly sliced spring onions
3 tbsp buttermilk
Approx.120ml milk
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda


Pre-heat a large stove top casserole or deep heavy-based frying pan to medium high and pour in olive oil. Season chicken breasts and place in casserole for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown.

Prepare the stock, garlic, bay leaf and thyme and add to the pan, along with the water.

Bring to the boil...

...cover, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for 25 minutes.

In the mean time, prepare the carrots, onion and celery.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove to a chopping board, strain the remaining liquid into a bowl and reserve for later.

Return the casserole to the hob on a medium heat (there is no need to wash it out) add the butter, and once nicely melted, add the chopped vegetables.

Allow to cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, and in the mean time, shred the chicken and cover with foil to retain the moistness.

After five minutes, add the 2-3 tablespoons of flour to the veg and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or so. Season.

The reserved cooking liquid now needs to be slowly returned to the pan. I have a large jug into which I strained it, which enabled me to gradually pour in the liquid whilst constantly stirring. If your cooking liquid is in a bowl which will not facilitate easy pouring, add the liquid with a ladle or large spoon instead. If you just throw it all in without stirring at the same time, it will become lumpy.

Bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for half an hour until the veg is just cooked through.

About five to ten minutes before the vegetables are ready, prepare the dough for the dumplings.

Place the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarb into a bowl and mix well together. Cut the butter into cubes.

Add the butter and rub in with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the spring onions and buttermilk, then add about two thirds of the milk before mixing together. Keep adding the milk until you reach the right consistency. 120ml should be pretty spot-on, and it's the amount I amended the original recipe to, but still, add it slowly as you don't want a sloppy, liquidy dumpling dough.

Once the veg is ready, remove the lid and return the shredded chicken to the pan, mixing in well, then return to the hob and increase heat to medium.

Now it's time to add the dumplings. If you've never made dumplings before, nothing can prepare you for how greatly they will have increased in size when you remove the lid after the final 15 minutes, so arrange them as far apart as possible, to avoid gargantuan mutant dumplings which can't be separated!

Rather than fashioning the dough into balls before adding them, I find it easier to use a table or dessert spoon, scoop up a not too generous amount of the dough mixture and carefully add it to the pan, perhaps using a teaspoon (or perhaps a little finger...) to aid full removal of dough from the spoon.

Once all the dough has been used up, place the lid on the pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and prepare to be astonished!

Once your jaw has returned to its usual place, dish up, trying to equally distribute those delectable dumplings amongst your eaters. As you may have noticed, I made rather a lot of dumplings for two adults and two small children. That is because I'm one of those people who hates the thought of there not being enough food, and of not being fully satisfied after a meal, so I overcompensate and often make too much food for the four of us. So yes,that does equal three dumplings each for myself and Husb, and two each for the children... that sounds too outrageous to admit to! 

This meal translates perfectly for small ones. It's full of veg, and the dumplings, although not the healthiest of additions, are nice and filling.

I adore this meal. It's hearty but not heavy, super flavoursome but really easy to make. You just need to factor in time and make it on a day you know you'll be home for a couple of hours before dinner time. And did you spot the genius ingredient? It was the spring onions. A dumpling could never be described as "fresh," but spring onions certainly a certain lightness to them, as well as an unexpected but very welcome flavour.

As usual, all the food amounts can be adapted to suit the appetites of those who will be eating, and the sauce is easy to adapt too, if necessary. It can easily be doubled, or made up to 150%, or however more or less you wish to make. 

I realise the recipes I'm sharing on the blog, whether they're my own or a going through of somebody else's, are rather photo heavy. I'd love to know, does that help, or is it more helpful to have more description and less photo? Also, if you have any questions about a recipe or how it could be adapted, please leave a question in the comments box or on the Facebook page, and I shall certainly do my best to respond and give a helpful answer. I really want what I'm sharing to be accessible and for it to inspire people who may not cook much to give it a go, and those who do cook already, to try some new ingredients or methods and to step out of their comfort zone.

I hope you enjoyed your dinner tonight, whatever it might have been :)

xxx Sam

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