I’ve been eyeing the Chicken & Dumplings recipe since I bought this cookbook. Who doesn’t love chicken and dumplings?! Gwyneth promises right away it’s the “homiest” dish in the book, so I saved it for an especially cold day. My main apprehension was that the first step is to cut apart a whole chicken, something I have never attempted. But, if Gwyneth has already convinced me to kill things, cutting apart something dead should be no problem, right?
The problems, however, were apparent from the beginning. For starters, this is how Gwyneth opens the instructions: “Wash and dry the chicken. Discard the back, and cut the chicken into 10 pieces.”
That’s it?! No loving, gentle guidance? Just an assumption that we’ve all done this before? Am I really in the minority of people who have never before butchered a chicken? Is this something the typical American attempts before the age of 25? Am I embarrassing myself on the internet by admitting that I, a VERY famous food blogger, have never butchered an animal, something Gwyneth Paltrow dismisses with one sentence?
Well, I refuse to be embarrassed. And thankfully this is the 21st century, in which we are blessed with roughly 5 million how-to-cut-up-a-chicken YouTube videos. Picking the one with the least-obnoxious soundtrack, I grabbed my sharpest knife and got to work.
The worst part is the beginning, when you have to pop bones out of their sockets. This is a good way to discover you were absolutely correct to give up on trying to get into med school, and that you’d never make it as a serial killer. After maiming the chicken with your bare hands, the rest is simply a matter of trying to find the correct places to cut, and hacking away at the bones with knives that probably should have been sharpened a long time ago.
Bone popping: not for the faint of heart.
20 minutes later, I am very proud to report my chicken looked like this:
BUTCHERED YA, CHICKEN. (Note for the future: cell phone photos of raw meat are not the best things in the world.)
(I triumphantly texted that photo to about 15 people. No one responded.)
This was only one of two whole chickens I had purchased for this recipe. The other was simmering away on the stove in a pot of water full of various spices and vegetables, to make homemade Chicken Stock. Once it had properly stewed, I set aside some of the stock for the current recipe and froze the rest for later. And rather than wasting a perfectly good chicken, I shredded the boiled carcass and made a chicken salad Gwyneth would be proud of: chicken, Vegenaise, stone-ground mustard, fresh parsley, celery, salt, pepper, and paprika. Chicken salad for DAYS, and not an inch of the chicken wasted. I felt like a proper Native American.
Back to the main recipe: I browned all my chicken pieces in a dutch oven on the stovetop, setting them aside once properly seared. Into the pot, which was filled with a mix of butter, chicken fat, and oil, I added sliced celery, carrots, leeks, the infamous duck bacon (easily procured at a local Brooklyn farmer’s market, proving the best way to take full advantage of Gwyneth’s cookbook is simply to move to the second most expensive city in the United States), a bay leaf, and some thyme. I let this aromatic mixture simmer for about 15 minutes, to soften the vegetables a bit, and then reintroduced the chicken to the pot. On top of it all, I poured some white wine, and brought the whole thing to a brief boil. I added my homemade chicken stock and some water and seasoned with salt and pepper. The final step was to cover the pot with parchment paper and seal with the lid, pop it in the oven, and then watch a movie and drink wine. These are my favorite kinds of recipes.
About two hours later I quickly mixed some flour, baking powder, half-and-half, and salt in a bowl and then scooped spoonfuls of this mix into the stew, giving me about 10 plump dumplings. I popped the pot back in the oven for a few minutes and then it was all finally done.
Although it took many steps, the recipe was pretty easy and foolproof. Of course, there are ways to save time: you don’t have to make your own chicken stock, and you can buy pre-cut chicken pieces instead of cutting apart your own whole chicken, but I found something rewarding about making all the components from scratch. Plus, it was much cheaper, especially once you consider I now have extra chicken stock in my freezer and a Tupperware container full of homemade chicken salad in the fridge.
A big ol’ bowl full of stuff.
As for the meal itself, it was pretty good! (This is why I will never become a successful food critic.) It’s not very revolutionary, considering it’s chicken and dumplings, but it’s homely and comforting and all those other words people always throw around with regard to dishes like this. Even though she didn’t really bring anything new to the table with this recipe, Gwyneth did get me to cut apart a whole chicken for the first time in my life, so I guess that counts for something? I’m sure I’ll be butchering all sorts of farm animals in no time.