The most famous chicken dish in the South is probably fried chicken, but a good case can also be made for chicken and dumplings. Fried chicken celebrates the poultry in abundance, when everyone can get a piece or two. Chicken and dumplings makes the most of chicken in scarcity, when a single bird must feed a multitude. Although it gets top billing, the meat itself isn’t the star of the meal. The dumplings hold sway, and people are particular about how they’re made. Some like small strips of pastry dropped into the bubbling pot, either free-form and puffy or rolled thin and cut like noodles. Others prefer soft drop-biscuit dumplings that float atop the stew. No matter the style, this dish combines essential, resourceful Southern cuisine and the comfort of home cooking, all in one bowl. Mrs. Morton Smith experimented for years with different methods of making the perfect chicken and dumplings. When she submitted this recipe, she told us that buttermilk was the secret to dumplings with a light texture. She also kneaded them on a well-floured surface because the extra flour thickens the broth.
1 (2 1⁄2- to 3-lb.) whole chicken
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 quarts water
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3/4 cup whole buttermilk
Chopped fresh chives
How to Make It
Place chicken, celery, and carrots in a Dutch oven; add water and 2 teaspoons of the salt. Bring to a boil over high; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until tender, about 1 hour. Remove chicken from broth, and let stand until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard skin and bone from chicken, and cut meat into bite-size pieces. Bring broth to a boil over high; stir in pepper.
Meanwhile, combine flour, baking soda, and remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; cut in shortening with a pastry blender (or use your fingers) until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk, stirring with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, and knead lightly 4 or 5 times.
Pat dough to 1⁄2-inch thickness. Pinch off dough in 1 1⁄2-inch pieces, and drop into boiling broth. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until desired consistency is reached, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in chicken. Garnish servings with chives.