I don’t know what made me think that January was a good time to shed the few extra pounds that I gained over the holidays. I guess it’s that whole “start the new year off right” garbage. It’s just not happening around here. It’s cold and I’m hungry. I want carbs. I want ciabatta and butter. I want melted cheese on toast. I’m giving up and giving in for a couple more weeks. My mama was right. This is the time of year to store up some fat just in case you get sick. Fat also keeps you warm. Bears do it. It’s part of nature. When the cold winds stop blowing and the springtime sunshine comes back to the Lowcountry, it’ll be protein and veggies with no complaining. I promise. In the meantime, I’m going the comfort food route.
I grew up in eastern North Carolina. The best food on the planet comes from my neck of the woods. I was raised in a world where children climbed trees, rode bicycles and played in the backyard. We ate vegetables that came from the garden and apples and pears that grew on local trees. Most Sunday luncheons included some form of chicken. At my Granny Baker’s, it usually included both fried chicken (fried in lard in a cast iron skillet) and chicken and dumplings. A typical meal would feature fried fatback (served on a saucer with a folded paper towel to absorb the grease), potato salad (served out of a glass candy dish), roughly peeled thick slices of fresh tomatoes (from Granny’s garden), my Aunt Hester’s homemade pickles (so tart that they’d make your mouth pucker), black-eyed peas and corn (always mixed together), canned biscuits (which is probably why I never developed biscuit love), fried chicken (that I never remember actually eating) and a big ole’ pot of chicken and dumplings (with a stray bone or two). I still love chicken and dumplings! I suppose that Chicken Pastry is actually a better description of the carbohydrate and calorie loaded strips of dough cooked in boiling chicken stock. It sounds fancier, anyway. Whatever you prefer to call it, it’s the ultimate southern comfort food that guarantees a good long nap when your plate is clean.
The recipe for Chicken Pastry is actually very simple. It takes a little time to boil the chicken meat off of the bones and remove the extra fat from the stock so I usually stretch the process out over two days. The extra wait time only heightens the anticipation! I also cheat and buy frozen pastry/dumpling dough. Mama used to roll out her pastry from scratch. Granny Baker often used extra-wide egg noodles. I’m not that dedicated. I think that even my cousins have resorted to using frozen dumplings. The main ingredient is actually the chicken stock. Canned chicken broth will not do, not even in a pinch. Yuck. I’ve steered from the original stock preparation by adding a couple of carrots and celery to the pot with the chicken. You can omit them, if you choose. The only trick for cooking fabulous Chicken Pastry is being sure to cook the dough until it’s completely done. You don’t want to taste any flour. The dish thickens as the pastry absorbs the chicken stock. It’s not going to be the consistency of chicken noodle soup. It’s hot, thick and completely satisfying. I hope you enjoy my little taste of home. Happy Cooking!
1 whole chicken (4-5 pound frying hen)
2 celery stalks
Salt and pepper, to taste
Remove the neck, gizzards and any other parts that might be inside the bird. Rinse the chicken inside and out, under cool running water. Salt and pepper the chicken liberally. Place the whole chicken, the carrots and the celery in a large stock pot and cover completely with water. Place the pot on medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Boil chicken for 45-60 minutes or until chicken begins to fall off the bone. Remove the pot from the heat. Remove the chicken, skin, bones and vegetables from the pot. Allow the chicken to cool enough to handle and remove the chicken from the bones. Reserve the chicken. Discard the skin, bones and vegetables. Skim as much fat as possible that has surfaced to the top of the pot of chicken stock. Discard the fat. Pour stock through a sieve into a large pot to remove any small bones that may have settled to the bottom. Bring chicken stock to a low boil. Remove frozen dumplings from the freezer. Drop strips of frozen pastry into the boiling stock, one by one. Try not to drop dough strips on top of each other. Do not stir. Let pastry cook until it is tender. Add chicken to the pot. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer for about 15 more minutes until dough is fully cooked and chicken is heated through. Serve hot. Serves 6 to 8.