Soup Sundays: Chicken Soup With Dumplings
It's Sunday, and I'm back with another soup review. This time I went with a more complicated recipe. Ever since the day I got Ad Hoc at Home and first flipped through the pages, looking at all the photos and recipes, I have had the chicken soup with dumplings in my head. Chicken soup with dumplings is an ultimate comfort food, and I'm sure you're all picturing a rustic, hearty dish with globs of fluffy Bisquick dumplings floating atop a thick soup. Not so with this version. It's hearty and it's filling, but it's also incredibly classy and elegant. It's the sort of chicken soup with dumplings that you can serve to a tough critic: Picture that scene in Ratatouille when Remy serves the movie's namesake dish to Anton Ego. It will conjure up feelings of comfort and home, but it will also look the part on a dining room table set with fine china. It will fill you up and stick to your ribs, but it won't do so in an in-your-face kind of way.
But this soup also entails a lot more effort and attention to detail than a typical chicken soup with dumplings. I can't say I was surprised -- I have made Thomas Keller's butternut squash soup before, so I knew what I was getting myself into. The soup has several different components that are each cooked individually: chicken, broth (which requires stock and roux), dumplings (made with pate a choux), carrots, and celery.
I wanted to make the stock for the soup from scratch because I knew it would taste infinitely better if I did and I also needed chicken meat to put in the soup, so I started my day by roasting a chicken. (There is a chicken stock recipe in Ad Hoc, but I went with my own version to simplify the soup just a tad. Plus, I feel like I'm getting a system down with making my own stock.) I used a 2 1/2-pound Bell & Evans whole chicken, which I seasoned with salt and pepper, placed in a skillet, rubbed with a little vegetable oil, topped with butter, and then roasted until the white meat reached 160 degrees. I reserved all the white meat for the soup, and I used the carcass with any dark meat left on it and extra chicken skin from the white meat to make stock.
I put the carcass in a large stockpot, covered it with 4 1/2 quarts of water, and simmered it for 2 hours, skimming the stock often. Then I added chopped carrot, onion, and celery; peppercorns; parsley stems; a bay leaf; a sprig of thyme; and some salt to the pot. I continued to simmer the stock for another hour and then I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl. I let the chicken cool slightly and then I removed all the dark meat, shredded it or broke it into pieces and reserved that for the soup as well.
With my chicken and stock ready to go, I got started on the soup recipe. To make the broth, you first have to cook carrots, onions, celery, and leeks with a little salt in some butter over very low heat. This takes about a half-hour. Then you add the stock to the vegetables, simmer for another 30 minutes, and discard the vegetables. This is your soup base.
While this is going on, you can make the dumplings and the celery and carrots. I found the dumplings pretty straightforward, but I've also made pate a choux several times before. Basically, you simmer water, butter, and salt; stir in flour; and keep stirring so the mixture gets smooth and glossy and the excess moisture evaporates. You transfer this mixture to a stand mixer, beat in Dijon mustard (great for flavoring the dumplings) and salt, and then add eggs and chives. This is your dumpling "dough," which then needs to be cooked in simmering salted water. You could go for a rustic look and just drop heaps of dough into the water, but I prefer the elegant quenelles Thomas Keller calls for.
To make the celery, you have to peel it first. I admit this is the first time I have ever peeled celery in my life. I'm still not sure it was necessary. You then cut the celery on a sharp bias. You simply blanch it and plunge it in an ice bath. This preserves its bright green color and lets it become just tender, unlike the mush you'd get if you sautéed it and then let it cook in the soup.
The carrots are just as painstaking. You have to quarter them lengthwise and then cut them into small pieces crosswise. You cook them just until tender in water bolstered with honey, bay leaf, thyme, garlic, and salt and pepper.
Finally, you go back to the soup base. You bring it to a simmer and slowly whisk some roux into it. The roux, cooked flour and butter, thickens the soup.
Again, you can take a shortcut here and simply add all the components to the soup base and serve the soup in a pot (which is actually what the recipe says), or you can go more restaurant style (and do what the photo shows) and arrange the components in individual serving bowls and pour the broth over. I opted for the second, after having gone through so much trouble to keep the components so distinct.
I set out bowls with the chicken, the carrots, the celery, some minced chives, and parsley sprigs and the pot of soup. I had our dinner guests each put whatever they wanted in their bowls and then instructed them to pour as much broth as they wanted right over everything.
The soup presented well, but more than that, everyone appreciated the distinct components. It was obvious that they hadn't been thrown into a pot together and left to fend for themselves. The carrots had just the right texture, as did the celery. They each held their own in the bowl. The thick, velvety broth was almost like a gravy. I actually thought of it like good pot pie filling. It was so rich and full-flavored. But for me, the dumplings stole the show. I loved the little hint of Dijon that flavored them and I liked their wholesome texture.
Something tells me I'll be making this soup again when a snowstorm hits (even though I've still got a never-ending list of soups to make).
Do you like dumplings?
Note: I'll be making many of the soups in my Soup Sundays series following published recipes. I'll link to the recipes whenever I can, but I won't be posting them here if I haven't made significant changes to them. Think of this series more as "soup reviews." You can find the recipe for this chicken soup with dumplings in Ad Hoc at Home and here.
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