When I was a kid, there were two kinds of dumplings. I mean, I am sure there were many, many kinds of dumplings then, as there are now, but in my family, there were only two. And both went with chicken.
Chicken N Dumplin’s came two ways. One, with fluffy, cloud like dumplings, was made with drop-biscuit dough, dropped by the spoon-full into simmering chicken soup. They floated to the top–super light, fluffy, and apparently everyone’s favorite. Well, everyone except for my Pop and I. I am not sure what force of nature or magic caused some of the fluffy dumplings to become dense little “sinkers”, but those were the ones we loved. Yep—my grandfather and I fought over them, and there were never, ever enough.
The other type was the thick, toothsome, roll and cut variety. Dense and slightly chewy, these were the kind we loved, my Pop and I. And alas, I only remember them being served a handful of times. Dang the “majority rules” rule. Mind you, they both taste the same, but mouth feel is important to some people—curiously not all people—and I like mine with more interesting texture. I like to chew. If I ever find myself without teeth, I will be very unhappy indeed.
Of course, growing up and experimenting with other foods and other cultures, I have since developed a love of many, many types of dumplings. Most cultures have them, in some form or fashion, and I have yet to find one I don’t like.
Asian Varieties: okay, the Asian’s produce two things more than any other people on the planet—Engineers and dumplings. And my world is much improved for both of them. They have wontons—which simmered in soup become dumplings. There are a myriad of meat and vegetable filled dumplings—pork, shrimp, veggie—steamed or pan-fried, as well as sweet ones filled with bean pastes, fruit curds, custards. And the king of them all—the soup dumpling. Yes, a dumpling that is actually filled with broth-y soup. It sounds implausible, to get soup inside a soft steamed dumpling, but really it is a clever parlor trick. I’ll share some recipes for soup dumplings in a later post. Because my Asian favorites deserve their own post.
Italian Varities: Ravioli, tortellini, and other filled pasta pockets are considered dumplings. Really, they are quite similar to their Asian cousins in terms of structure—after all, Marco Polo is alleged to have brought pasta to Italy when he returned from his Asian travels. The Italians embraced it, and made it their own utilizing the ingredients found in their country. Then there is gnocchi. If you haven’t had gnocchi, get thee to a Tratorria and order some. STAT! Gnocchi are little dense dumplings, similar to the “sinkers” I loved in my youth. The first time I tried them, I almost cried. That’s no lie. They are often made with mashed-potato based dough, but more and more are being recreated using things like pumpkin (my favorite) and sweet potato. They are small, about the size of a large grape, with a texture that is both light and dense at the same time, and very satisfying. I am not a vegetarian, but when I order gnocchi, I am fine with no meat…just a simple browned butter sauce is all I need with these exquisite little bites of dumpling heaven. If you haven’t seen my recipe for Pumpkin Gnocchi, check it out here: https://texanaskitchen.com/2011/11/01/pumpkins-punkins-and-the-root-beer-house/ They are also great for dessert, served with a butter sauce and topped with cinnamon sugar.
Russian/Polish Pierogi: both Russian and Polish cuisines frequent the use of Pierogi. Pierogi can best be likened to ravioli, but filled with mashed potato, with or without cheese. They are served simply, with a butter sauce, and frequently with sour cream and carmelized onions on the side. Sublime and comforting.
German Spaetzle: this noodle is really more of a dumpling. A heavy sort of dough, cut into small bits and served alongside German dishes like Sauerbraten. Like the gnocchi and the roll-and-cut dumplings of my youth, the spaetzle has that great, toothsome texture that I love.
Jewish Matzo Balls: Matzo Ball Soup is also called Jewish penicillin, as it is sworn to make you feel better when you are sick. If you like fluffy style dumplings, you should love matzo balls–similar in texture, but a different and delicious flavor.
British/Irish Varieties: not only are the savory dumplings popular, cooked with meat or stews and soups, but also the fruit filled variety. Apple dumplings are pastry dough wrapped around spiced apples, and baked or steamed in the sweetened, syrupy juice of the fruit.
Mexican: Chochoyotes are a dumpling made with corn masa, and may be simmered into soup, or even cooked with fruit and baking spices to make a dessert.
American: Native Americans were making dumplings long before American housewives started filling bellies with them. They made the simple roll-and-cut variety, and simmered them in the fruit and juice of muscadine grapes. Then the Europeans brought their fruit filled and their -savory dumplings with them, and we now have Apple Dumplings and Chicken N Dumplings.
Chicken N Dumplings is a southern staple, and favored comfort food across the south. It is even used as a term of endearment towards someone we are fond of. “Dumplin’…that shore is a darlin’ outfit…”
Chicken and Dumplings, A Bunch of Ways
- 1 whole stewing chicken, or 4 large chicken breasts
- ½ cup chicken base (or low sodium bouillon, if not available)
- 8 stalks celery, sliced
- 1 small white onion, sliced
- 4 large carrots, sliced (optional)
- 3 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
- Salt to taste (may vary based on your choice of chicken base or bouillon)
In a large stock pot, place chicken, chicken base, celery, onion and carrot. Cover with one gallon of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and simmer until chicken is tender and falling off the bone. Remove chicken to a platter to cool. Skim the surface of any chicken foam, or loose pieces. Into the simmering broth, drop your choice of dumpling, and cook as directed below. While dumplings cook, shred the chicken. When dumplings are fully cooked, add chicken back to pot, heat through, add pepper, and salt if needed, and serve.
- 3 cups Biscuit and pancake mix
- 1 cup milk
Mix together to form a sticky dough. Drop by tablespoons into simmering broth, and cook for 20 minutes.
- 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 6 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk
Combine flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and pour in the butter and buttermilk. Stir with a fork until the mixture comes together to make a dough. Place on a floured surface, and roll out to ¼ inch thickness. Using a sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut into 2 inch squares. Drop a few at a time into broth, stirring a moment before dropping the next few. Once all the dumplings are in, cook for 15 minutes…
Herb Dumplings—add 1 teaspoons of sage, thyme, or poultry seasoning to the dry ingredients when you are making your dough.
Cheater Dumplings—use a can of refrigerator biscuits, cut into fourths. Add to soup and cook for 20 minutes.
Super-Fast Dumplings—cut a 20 pack of flour tortillas into squares, and add to broth. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Super-Fast Chicken and Dumplings—use a roasted chicken from your grocer’s deli, and one of the fast dumpling varieties listed here. You can have supper in 20 minutes.