What can I say? Creamy chicken soup is good all on it’s own, but adding doughy pillows of stock-simmered dumplings, well that just takes it to an entirely new level. Cream-based soups have always been my favorite. I have very clear memories as a young person debating heavily between Cream of Broccoli Soup or New England Clam Chowder when dining out at restaurants. I suppose the writing was on the wall even all those years ago, eh?
This dish actually begins with one of my favorite recipes I developed years ago for Creamy Chicken and Pasta soup as the base. I decided this time around to swap pasta for drop dumplings. Besides the airy, doughy texture, I love that dumplings like these call for very standard ingredients, which makes them incredibly easy to whip up using things you probably already have in the pantry. And while I’m not shying away from milk, butter or gluten in this recipe, I do start with a base of carrots, celery, leeks and fresh herbs. Anytime I can sneak some nutritional bites into an otherwise indulgent dish, I feel pretty ok with that. Remember, it’s all about balance. One bite of dumpling….one bite of carrot….one bite of dumpling….one bite of celery…See? It all balances out!
To get a jump on things, start by searing the chicken. I use cutlets here because I like that they are thin enough to cook through quickly and then easy to cut into narrow strips for the final soup. Warm a heavy-bottomed soup pot like my favorite Le Creuset over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, season the chicken with salt and pepper, then add to the pot and cook about 3-4 minutes per side. Keep an eye so that the goodie bits on the bottom of the pot do not start to burn. Turn down the heat if things seem to be browning too quickly. Transfer the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
My advice for this recipe is to get everything organized while the chicken sears. Since you’ll be cooking the soup and the dumplings simultaneously, the more prep work you have done ahead of time the better. In other words, chop and measure your veggies and the fresh parsley. Count out about 5 sprigs of thyme to toss in with everything. Whisk your dry dumpling ingredients together. Have your vinegar and milk out and ready. Measuring cups and spoons nearby. These little steps of preparedness will just make it all that much easier.
PSA: While adding sprigs of thyme to a recipe is never a hard-fast quantity in my book, I always find that if I know how many branches I tossed in at the beginning I know how many I have to retrieve at the end.
Once the veggies and dumplings are “mised out“, or all prepped and read to go, let’s cook. The pot used to brown the chicken will now be used for the soup. Set that back over medium heat and add another tablespoon of olive oil. While that warms, pour all the chicken stock into a separate, large saucepan. You want this cooking liquid to be at least 2 inches deep to start, so add 1-2 cups of water if necessary. Set over high heat, cover pot and bring to a boil.
Drop the veggies and thyme into the soup pot. Season with salt and pepper, then sweat over medium heat until veggies are tender, about 5-7 minutes. Stir often. Meanwhile, whisk or stir the milk into the flour mixture. The mixture should be wet but sticky. If need be, add a little more milk or a little more flour to get a firm but damp mixture.
After the stock is at a boil, lower heat slightly so it’s at a rapid simmer. I prefer to use a small ice cream soup (about 1 tablespoon in size) to scoop and release dumpling balls into the stock. They will float to the top fairly quickly but this does not mean they are ready. Continue to cook about 3 more minutes to allow them to cook all the way through, using a spatula or spoon to gently flip them over as they simmer. Feel free to take one out and cut into it to test for doneness. Adjust time as necessary. Set on a plate, and continue cooking until all the dough is used up.
See how the dumplings float and simmer? They are just so delightful!
Airy little pillowy dough-balls. What’s not to love?!
While all that dumpling action is happening, don’t forget to tend to the soup. If it feels too chaotic, simply cut the heat on the stock and tend to your soup. Then, while your soup is thickening, you can get back to the dumplings.
After the veggies have sweated and softened, you’ll make a roux, which is a formula of fat plus flour to create a thickening agent for the soup. We will also deglaze with red wine vinegar, because I add acid to almost everything, and then pour in 3 cups of whole milk. As we scrape up the roux and get everything simmering together the soup will become thick and silky and delicious. All this combined should take about 10 minutes. As mentioned, this is a great time to get back to the dumplings. Just be sure to reach over and stir your soup from time to time. And don’t let the bottom burn. Lower the heat if necessary.
Eventually, you will have a pot of thick, creamy soup. Slice the chicken into small pieces and add back to the pot along with chopped parsley. If you are still working on the dumplings, reduce the heat all the way to low.
As the dumplings cook, you may notice that the liquid is cooking down so it’s not as deep as it was when we started. Avoid the temptation to add more liquid. We want this starchy liquid to finish our soup. Only add more water if your dumplings absolutely do not have room to float. Once all the dumplings are cooked, ladle 1/2-1 cup of the cooking liquid into the soup and stir to combine. This will add a ton of flavor and even though it will seem to thin it out, the flour residue from the dumplings will also help keep your soup nice and thick.
Cooking the dumplings separately serves two purposes. One, using the gluten-y chicken stock to finish my soup, as described above. Two, I want to be able to store the dumplings separately so they don’t absorb the soup or break down in the soup as it chills. So, I scoop the number of dumplings I want to serve into the pot of creamy soup just to warm everything through right before serving. Then, I ladle some soup into bowls along with three or four dumplings each and serve everything piping hot. Any left over dumplings get stored separately!
Creamy chicken soup topped with pillowy dumplings of dough is comforting and delicious.
For the soup:
- 1 pound chicken cutlets
- 1+1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 cup celery, diced
- 1 cup leeks, rinsed, quartered and sliced thin
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- kosher salt and black pepper
For the dumplings:
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 cup whole milk
- 4 cups chicken stock
- Set a heavy-bottomed soup pot over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and warm. Season chicken cutlets with salt and pepper, then transfer to the hot pot. Oil should sizzle to indicate pot is hot enough. Sear for 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer to a clean bowl.
- While chicken cooks, prep veggies and whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and mustard powder for the dumplings.
- After chicken is set aside, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and set heat to medium. Once warm, add the carrots, celery, leeks and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Sweat veggies until softened, about 5-8 minutes. Do not brown. Stir often.
- Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan. If liquid isn’t at least 2 inches deep, add 1-2 cups of water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Whisk or stir 1 cup of milk into flour mixture to make the dumpling batter. Mixture should be firm and sticky, wet but not soggy. If need be, add another 2-3 tablespoons of milk. Once the stock is boiling, use a tablespoon measure or small ice cream scoop to scoop balls of dough into the liquid. After the dumplings float to the surface, cook another 3 minutes or so to cook all the way through. Cut one in half to check doneness. Inside should be dry and airy. Work in batches as necessary, using a slotted spoon to transfer cooked dumplings to a plate or a tray.
- Try not to add more liquid to the stock pot. If the dumplings can no longer float, add a little more water, otherwise, we want this concentrated floury liquid to finish our soup.
- Once the veggies have softened, lower heat, add butter and melt. Then, stir in 1/4 cup of flour. Cook this for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Pour in red wine vinegar and deglaze, or scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Slowly whisk in the milk, being sure to loosen up all that flour from the sides or corners of the pot. Once all the milk is added, increase heat back to medium and let mixture come to a simmer. Stir often.
- Soup will begin to thicken. Slice the chicken into thin pieces and add back to the soup along with any juice that may have collected in the bowl. Stir in the chopped parsley. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat and let soup simmer very gently as the dumplings finish cooking.
- Once the dumplings are all cooked, ladle 1/2-1 cup of the cooking liquid into the pot of soup and stir to combine. If you want your soup thinner, add more of this starchy stock.
- Remember to remove the sprigs of thyme.
- Transfer 3-4 dumplings per serving to the pot of soup. Warm through then ladle soup and dumplings into bowls and serve hot!
- Keep extra dumplings separate until ready to serve.
If you want to skip the dumplings, the soup on it’s own makes a great meal. Or, you can boil some penne pasta instead and stir that in before serving.