While “schmaltz” – aka chicken fat – is among one of the more fun Yiddish words to say, you need not fret if you cannot find it for using in this recipe. Butter will substitute just as well, and dare I say, perhaps even be a tad more forgiving on those with more delicate constitutions (basically, if you can’t handle eating a LOT of chicken fat in one serving, maybe go with butter). There is no shame in admitting that you may not be able to eat a dish containing a whopping ½ cup of delicious rendered animal fat, and I say this as someone who also cannot do so but somehow still manages to eat 4 spoonfuls of mayo straight from the jar on a regular basis. Bodies are a mystery. Use butter or use schmaltz, and then revel in the warmth and contentment this dish provides that the rest of the world currently does not.
BA’s Best: Chicken and Dumplings
Taken from BA’s Best arsenal, with some minor tweaking to directions
4 whole chicken legs (thigh + drumstick)
1 large leek, pale green and white parts chopped, dark leaves discarded
4 carrots, 1 whole, 3 chopped into ½-inch rounds
4 celery stalks, 1 whole, 3 chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and halved (dice 1 half, leave the other whole)
3 garlic cloves, smashed
4 sprigs of thyme
Stems from ½ bunch parsley
1 bay leaf
2 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tbsp kosher salt + more to taste
¼ cup + 1 tbsp schmaltz or butter, melted
½ cup all-purpose flour, measured correctly
½ cup heavy cream
Chopped chives, to serve
1 cup all-purpose flour, measured correctly
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup + 2 tbsp buttermilk
3 tbsp schmaltz or butter, melted
Bring the chicken legs, leek, whole carrot, whole celery stalk, intact half onion, garlic, thyme, parsley stems, bay leaf, peppercorns, and 3 quarts (~3 litres) water to a simmer in a large pot. Cook, uncovered, until the chicken is no longer pink, ~40 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and let sit until cool enough to touch. Shred the meat, discarding the bones and skin, and cover the meat with foil to keep warm. Set aside. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Pour the stock into a pot and place back over the burner on low heat. Simmer and stir in salt; taste and season further if needed.
While the stock simmers, heat ¼ cup schmaltz or butter in a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. Cook the chopped carrots, celery, and remaining half onion (diced) in the hot fat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened but not fork-tender, ~8-10 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly until the vegetables are coated and the flour begins to smell nutty, ~1-2 minutes. Start pouring the simmering stock into the skillet, whisking to incorporate and smooth the sauce. Keep adding stock by the ladleful and whisking until the sauce is thick and lump-free. You will probably not use all of the stock, but you should use more than half. Continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, ~10-15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Note that if you accidentally thin out the sauce to the point of no-return you can whisk together 1 tbsp cornstarch with 2 tbsp cold water and pour that slurry into the warm sauce to thicken.
Meanwhile, make the dumpling batter by whisking together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk the buttermilk with the melted schmaltz or butter in a small bowl or measuring cup. Fold the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until the dough just comes together. You want to go really easy on the mixing here because any heavy-handedness will certainly toughen the dumplings. Set aside.
Stir the heavy cream into the stew along with the shredded leg meat. Drop tablespoon-sized mounds of dough into the stew. They will look quite rustic, but that is rather the point, besides they puff up and even out as they cook. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan (with foil if you don’t have a big enough lid), and cook for 10 minutes. Check the dumplings for doneness – they should be about 4x larger and the interior should resemble that of a very soft roll. If necessary, cover and cook for 2 more minutes, or as long as needed.
Spoon the chicken and dumplings into wide shallow bowls and garnish with chopped chives. Beige never tasted so good.