Adrienne Cheatman puts her spin on the historic dish of chicken and dumplings with this savory, rustic chicken and cornbread dumplings recipe.
Starting around the 1500s in the South, Indigenous Americans formed strong alliances with newly displaced Africans. In a sort of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” situation, they shared important skills such as how to cultivate and use local crops, including nixtamalizing corn and various methods for preparing it.
From this alliance we got grits, hominy, cornbread, hush puppies, hoecakes, and other corn-based foods. Native Americans even taught Africans how to form a sort of cornmeal batter and drop it into hot water or broth to create a stew.
Thus, chicken and dumplings was born. It’s easy to appreciate the dish for its comforting, rustic, homey qualities, but even more compelling is how many cultures have had a hand in creating it.
Serves 5 to 6
3 medium carrots
4 celery sticks
2 medium Spanish onions
1 large leek
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
2½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 dried bay leaf
3 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoon unsalted butter (can substitute vegetable oil, dairy-free butter substitute, or schmaltz), plus ½ tablespoon cold unsalted butter
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream or whole milk (completely optional, depends on your mood and diet)
¼ cup cornmeal
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
For the stew:
For the dumplings
For the stew:
- Grab two bowls for veggie prep. Peel the carrots and trim ¼ inch from the tops and bottoms. Place the peelings and ends in one bowl. Quarter carrots lengthwise and slice them thin; place into second bowl. Trim 1 inch from the tops and bottoms of the celery stalks and place the ends in the bowl with the carrot scraps. Cut the stalks in half lengthwise, then slice thin; place in bowl with sliced carrots. Slice onions in half through the root ends and remove and discard the skins. Chop the onions fine, leaving ½-inch at the root ends. Add root ends to the veggie scraps; add chopped onions to the sliced veggies. Trim root end and top 2 inches from the leek. Remove the remaining green and light green parts, rinse them well under cold water, and add them to the scraps. Quarter the white part lengthwise, then slice thin and rinse well; add to the sliced veggie bowl.
- Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, then add oil. Season chicken thighs on both sides with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1 teaspoon of the pepper. Working in batches, add thighs to pot, skin-side down, and sear until golden brown all over, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
- Add veggie scraps to pot and cook, stirring and scraping any stuck bits from the bottom, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add bay leaf and thyme, then return the chicken thighs and any accumulated juices to the pot. Pour in 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, skimming any foam that rises to the top, until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid has reduced slightly, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Using a pair of tongs, transfer chicken to a plate. Strain stock into a large bowl; discard veggie scraps. Carefully skim the chicken fat from the surface and reserve it in a separate small bowl.
- Set the pot back over medium heat and put in the skimmed chicken fat and the sliced veggies. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and remaining 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring regularly, until veggies begin to soften and brown at the edges, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons of butter until melted, then dust with 3 tablespoons of flour and stir to combine. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk in wine, stirring to create a thick paste. Gradually whisk in reserved stock, making sure to dissolve the roux as you go so there are no lumps. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, remove and discard skin, bones, and cartilage from chicken thighs. Pull meat into large shreds. Add meat to pot and stir, making sure the sauce isn’t sticking to the bottom. If you are using cream or milk, stir it in now.
For the dumplings:
- In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, remaining ¼ cup flour and ½ teaspoon salt, and sugar and baking powder. Add cold butter and rub it between your fingers until it is distributed throughout the dry ingredients. Add ½ tablespoon of dill and egg and stir to create a thick, spoonable batter. If the mixture seems too dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of stock or water.
- Raise heat under the stock to medium-high and bring the pot to a boil. Using two spoons or a cookie scoop, drop tablespoon-size mounds of the dumpling batter into the liquid. The dumplings don’t have to be perfectly smooth and round, so don’t waste time trying to make them pretty; just make sure the size is consistent so they cook evenly. When all of the dumpling batter is scooped, cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, undisturbed, for 15 minutes.
- Open the lid and give pot a gentle stir to get dumplings completely bathed in sauce. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning as you like. Lift out a dumpling, break it open, and check the center to make sure it is cooked through. The dumplings should look light and fluffy throughout. If needed, cover the pot and continue cooking for up to 7 minutes.
- Just before serving, sprinkle the remaining 2½ tablespoons of dill and the parsley over stew, then ladle into bowls.
From the book SUNDAY BEST: Cooking Up the Weekend Spirit Every Day by Adrienne Cheatham with Sarah Zorn. Copyright © 2022 by Adrienne Cheatham. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Kelly Marshall. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
- Recipe by Adrienne Cheatham, Sunday Best: Cooking Up the Weekend Spirit Every Day (Clarkson Potter/Publishers) Copyright ©2022