Last week I came down with a cold. Before this, I had some friends over for drinks and three of them, my husband included, had a sniffle, and by mid-week it felled me too. Without meaning to sound too much like a water-cooler conversation, it seems to be the time of year. In fact, whenever I look through old blogs, posts and diaries, I can always find something written around the end of September or the beginning of October where I complain about how ill I am.
Sapped of energy and the desire to do anything beyond watch daytime television and sleep, cooking is often the last thing on my mind. Not only because the process involves so much standing up, but also that I just cannot face the dishes afterwards. That being said, there are only so many sandwiches I can eat, and I know that there is always one dish that makes me feel so much better.
My nan would always make us chicken and dumplings when we were ill as children and, now, as an adult, I cannot decide if it’s the dish itself or the association that revives me so much. The memory of being wrapped in a blanket in her living room, close to the fire, watching her big old television and eating this hearty stew from a bowl is certainly restorative, but I do think there is something in the dish itself.
As with all of her cooking, that I loved so much, she never wrote down any recipes, and subsequently they were lost when she died nearly four years ago. To be honest, I’m sure there was actually no recipe to follow, she just threw in things that she happened to have around the house, as with many of the dishes she made. I’ve tried to recreate it as best I can, cobbling together ideas that I’ve found online and a rather good recipe in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Notes from My Kitchen Table, which uses suet-free dumplings that I much prefer.
It is, perhaps, not the easiest dish to make when you’re under the weather, after all, it involves jointing a whole chicken, but it is worth the effort. If you’re ill, it is best enjoyed with a bottle of Lucozade (another throwback from my childhood), if you aren’t, I suppose a glass of white wine will do.
Chicken and Dumplings
1 whole chicken, jointed into two legs, two thighs and four breast pieces
Sea salt and black pepper
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
2 rashers back bacon, cut into 2cm pieces
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme
150ml dry white wine
500ml chicken stock
For the dumplings
125g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
150ml single cream
Preheat the oven to 200c and season the chicken pieces.
Heat some oil in a large frying pan (with a lid) or chef’s pan over a medium-high heat. Brown the chicken pieces on both sides, about 5-6 minutes per side, and remove to a plate. Add the celery, carrot, leek, bacon, bay leaf and thyme to the pan and cook for 10 minutes over a medium-low heat until the vegetables are soft and translucent but not browned.
Return the chicken to the pan and add the white wine, letting it bubble up and evaporate a little, for two minutes. Add the stock, with a little more seasoning, and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pan with a circle of greaseproof paper, then the lid, and transfer to the oven. Cook in the oven for 1 ½ hours. Check periodically and if the sauce looks like it is reducing too much, add some water.
Meanwhile, combine the dumplings ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until a shaggy dough is formed. Take the pan out of the oven, discard the paper and lid and scoop large spoonfuls of the dumpling mixture on top of the chicken. Put the pan back into the oven for 10 minutes until the dumplings are golden.