Trading Places: Her Mom’s Chicken and Dumplings & My Mom’s Fried Chicken - No. 111
Just in time for Mother’s Day, Leah Koenig of The Jewish Table and I swap favorite chicken recipes from our mothers
Today you receive a double dose of Mother’s Day as I welcome Leah Koenig of The Jewish Table to tell us about her mother’s Chicken and Dumplings. I share my mother’s fried chicken story with Leah’s readers on her newsletter. Leah and I met through Substack’s Food Intensive Fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn with her family and is the author of six cookbooks, including The Jewish Cookbook and Modern Jewish Cooking. Her next book explores Rome’s historic Jewish cuisine, and she’s promised me there will be fried artichoke recipes!
By Leah Koenig
AFTER NEARLY TWO DECADES TRAVERSING New York City’s cramped but exhilarating streets, I consider myself a bonafide city girl. But while I thrive amongst the city’s hustle and bustle, I keep a few ties to the slower, suburban-Midwestern lifestyle I grew up with—including a near-constant craving for rich, soul-satisfying casseroles.
And the star of them all is my mother Carol’s chicken and dumplings.
The dish itself is comfort food par excellence—a jumble of tender, flavorful chicken enrobed with silky gravy and topped with nuggets of pillowy biscuit dough. But beyond the flavor, eating chicken and dumplings brings me right back to childhood in suburban Chicago.
Chicken and dumplings was one of our family’s regularly requested dishes, served for cozy birthday dinners at home, or on early autumn nights sitting around the table in our screened-in back porch.
Most of my beloved food and family memories are centered around Jewish holiday celebrations.
There was the round, raisin-studded challah and tender brisket my mom served for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). There were crispy fried potato latkes for Hanukkah, which I snuck, still-sputtering with hot oil, straight from the frying pan, and her apple cake, which came chock-a-block with tender pieces of fruit.
There is nothing overtly “Jewish” about chicken and dumplings— and yet it always felt deeply familiar.
To make it, you simmer chicken with onion, carrots, and celery into a flavorful stock that very closely mimics Jewish chicken soup. Meanwhile the dumplings, which are fluffy-yet-substantial with a beguilingly chewy texture, are nothing if not spiritual cousins to the matzo balls I grew up eating on Passover. No wonder I was smitten at first bite!
Sometime in my mid-20s, I asked my mom to teach me how to make the chicken and dumplings I loved so much.
Growing up, she and I had never really cooked much together. She liked her kitchen calm and clean, with everything returned to its proper place. (Now that it is my turn to get dinner on the table every night for my own family, I totally get it!) And I was too preoccupied with ballet lessons, friend drama, and homework to devote any headspace to the kitchen.
But there is no question that my appreciation for good-quality ingredients and elegant, well-made meals comes directly from my mother. She was the kind of mom who, in the age of watery iceberg lettuce from the supermarket, regularly shopped at the farmer’s market. She was the kind of mom who stocked the pantry with real maple syrup rather than artificial pancake syrup - not out of snobbishness, but because she thought it tasted better.
While the chicken simmered on her stovetop, and my mom sifted flour for the dumplings, I asked her if she knew the origin of her chicken and dumplings recipe.
Certainly it wasn’t a dish that she had learned from her grandmother Lillian, an Eastern European Jewish-immigrant, or her first-generation mother, Bess. I figured it was something she had picked up at a friend’s home during her childhood in Hammond, Indiana. Or maybe it was something she had clipped from a magazine as a young woman living on her own in Chicago.
Nope! As it turns out, she found the recipe in a circa 1973 cookbook put together by employees at the Metropolitan Museum of Art…in New York City! “I ordered the book through the mail,” she told me. “Many of the recipes were weird, but this stood out. It’s the only recipe I ever made from the book.”
No matter where she first found the recipe, my mom’s chicken and dumplings would hold a special place in my heart.
But knowing that my favorite “Midwestern comfort food” dish actually hails from The Big Apple?
That is pure gravy.
What is your favorite chicken recipe from your mother?
Thank you, Leah!
For sharing your recipe and story and for donating a copy of The Jewish Cookbook as our May cookbook giveaway for subscribers! Leah’s writing and recipes can be found in the New York Times, New York Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Food & Wine, Epicurious, Food52, and Tablet. You can follow Leah on Instagram and Twitter or her website. And click the button below to learn more about her newsletter and how to subscribe:
Chicken and Dumplings
This recipe was taught to me by my mom, Carol Koenig, who adapted it from A Culinary Collection from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. These days, my family keeps a kosher kitchen, so I included a couple of ingredient substitutions that I make in the recipe below to avoid mixing meat and dairy. However you choose to make it (with dairy or without), plan to lick the plate clean!
Serves 4 to 6
For the Chicken Stock:
1 4-pound (1.8 kg) chicken, cut into eight pieces
1 large onion, halved (peel on is fine)
3 celery stalks, trimmed and halved
2 large carrots, peeled and halved
1 large handful parsley (stems okay)
2 bay leaves
Optional: 4 garlic cloves (smashed and peeled), 1 parsnip, peeled
For the Gravy:
3 cups (710 ml) of the Chicken Stock
6 tablespoons of butter or vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Dumplings:
1 1/2 cups (210 g) all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons cold butter or vegan butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup milk (or plant-based milk like almond)
Chopped fresh parsley and freshly ground black pepper, for serving
Make the Chicken Stock: Add the chicken pieces to a soup pot along with the onion, celery, carrots, parsley, and bay leaves, plus the garlic and parsnip, if using. Add cold water to just cover, then bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to low and cook, partially covered, until the meat is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. (The soup should roll along at a slow, rather than vigorous, bubble.)
Remove the chicken pieces from the stock, let cool to the touch, then separate the meat from the bone in large pieces. Set meat side, discarding bones. Strain out and discard the vegetables from the stock. Proceed with making the gravy or, if desired, chill the cooled stock in the refrigerator overnight and skim off the solidified fat, then proceed.
Make the Gravy: Gently warm the 3 cups of stock (saving the rest for another use) in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large frying pan set over medium heat. Add the flour, whisking vigorously until the mixture forms a smooth roux.
Gradually add the warmed stock, stirring constantly, until smooth. Lower heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally and skimming off any film that forms on the surface, until it thickens into a loose gravy, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper (if you used a salted vegan butter instead of unsalted butter, start with 1 teaspoon of salt), followed by the chicken pieces. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Remove from the heat.
Make the Dumplings: Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Add the butter pieces and use your fingers or a fork to work them into the flour until the mixture looks crumbly. Stir in the milk to form a thick batter. (Do not over mix, or the dumplings will be heavy and doughy.)
Set the frying pan with the chicken and sauce back over medium heat until gently bubbling. Drop the dough by the rounded tablespoon evenly across the sauce, then lower heat to medium-low, cover pan, and cook until dumplings are puffed and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Serve, topped with chopped parsley and a few generous grinds of black pepper.
Wait Just a Minute!! Before you put your chicken on to simmer for chicken and dumplings, a few reminders:
We will be talking about mothers throughout May here on BTL, so don’t miss a post! Coming Thursday for paid subscribers, my daughter Kathleen shares her fabulous and quite miraculous chicken meatball recipe that pleases not only her picky/adorable toddler but dinner guests, too.
Congratulations to Sarah Masters for winning the April cookbook giveaway, which is a copy of Martha Stewart’s Fruit Desserts donated by Martha’s publisher Clarkson Potter. Another perk of being a paid subscriber!
Several of you have asked me to explain how paying for a subscription works: If you’d like to become a paid subscriber, click the subscribe button and choose that option. You may either pay $5 a month or $50 for the year, which is a reduced rate and a nice deal! In addition to the Tuesday free posts, as a paid subscriber you receive the Thursday recipe posts, which now contain video! And audio storytelling is coming soon. You get to take part in the Open Thread discussions on Thursdays as well as be eligible for monthly cookbook giveaways, discount codes on certain products, and as many perks as I can possibly dream up. I hope you consider becoming a paid subscriber!
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Have a great week!