May it Please the Palate

Chicken and Dumpling Wars

The gym I go to (cruelly) always plays Food Network shows in the afternoon. It’s gotten to the point that when I travel, I can’t exercise unless I put on the Food Network. I suppose this is somewhat Pavlovian.

There I was, in desolate, wind-swept Acme Michigan, on the hotel’s elliptical trainer, watching Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” If you haven’t seen this show, Fieri is the boisterous, spiky-haired host, driving his red Camaro convertible to funky, unpretentious restaurants all over the US. Yesterday I saw him visit “Hob Nob Hill” in San Diego, serving American home cooking for 66 years at the same location.

Practically drooling as I watched their preparation of Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings, I checked it out later on the Food Network’s website. What I saw shocked me. The recipe the Food Network posted as “Hob Nob Hill Old-fashioned Chicken ’n’ Dumplings” was not, in fact, the recipe used by Hob Nob Hill. This was pointed out by many of the site’s 38 commenters – including one that purported to be from the owners of Hob Nob
Hill which lamented, ‘We’ve tried to correct them twice, to no avail.’

It took some digging, but I found what appeared to be the actual recipe. Watching this being prepared on TV looked like just the thing for a cold winter’s day: hearty, flavorful,and a crowd-pleaser. Whole chickens are simmered right in the stock, the dumplings are steamed, and then tied together with a rich gravy. Hope you find it to your liking.

“Hob Nob Hill Old-fashioned Chicken ’n’ Dumplings”
Ingredients – Chicken and Gravy
1 (4-pound) chicken, cut into 10 pieces, plus the backbone 4 celery ribs, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 quarts (8 cups) water
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt, to taste
Cooked peas and diced carrots (optional) (Note: this seems entirely superfluous. I’d skip it and serve with a side of fresh veggies or a tossed salad.)
Ingredients - Dumplings
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup milk

Make the chicken and gravy:
Put the chicken, celery, carrot, onion, water, seasoned and garlic salts, and pepper in a small pot. Bring to a simmer, skimming the surface occasionally, and cook, uncovered, until the chicken is just cooked through, about 30 minutes. Let the chicken cool in the broth for 15 minutes.

While the chicken simmers, make the roux: In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Dump in the flour and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Take the chicken out of the broth, pull the skin and meat from the bones, and set the meat aside. Discard the skin, bones, and backbone. Strain the broth into a clean saucepan. (Note: you can enhance the flavor of the stock by adding some base such as Better than Bouillon.)

Make the dumplings:
Bring water to a hard boil in a pot that can hold a perforated steamer, but the water should not rise into the steamer. Whisk the flour with the salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. In another bowl, beat the egg and the oil with a fork, then stir in the milk. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.

Drop 8 equal portions of dough onto the steamer insert (about 1/4 cup each), cover tightly, and steam for 15 minutes, until the dumplings are firm to the touch.

While the dumplings steam, make the gravy: Bring the broth back to a simmer. Whisk in about three quarters of the roux, let it simmer a few minutes, and then add more until the gravy is thickened to your liking. Season to taste.

Add the chicken (and peas and carrots, if you are using them) to the gravy, season to taste, and heat through. To serve, place 2 dumplings in a bowl and ladle over chicken and gravy.

(Makes 4 to 6 servings. Adapted recipe courtesy of Tania and Jeff Kacha of Hob Nob Hill)

I must say, comfort food is really appealing to my taste buds these days, and it’s a delicious antidote to the evils of exercise. Just make sure, when you’re scouring the internet, to find the real thing. In this case, if it’s Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings, it’s probably real – but if they use the word “and,” avoid it at all costs!