Dumplings

According to the folks who keep track of these thing, it was National Dumpling Day this week – tho I seem to have missed the actual day (Sept. 26).  Hooray for Dumplings!!  My knowledge of the variety of international dumplings has certainly grown exponentially since the days of my youth, especially since attending cooking school and embarking on my culinary teaching career.  I have come to understand that the term “dumpling” refers to an incredibly immensely broad category of foods from nearly every international cuisine.  I went back to look at the definition of dumpling in my culinary school textbook, The New Professional Chef, which is from the Culinary Institute of America (also known as the CIA—however, not my alma mater).  According to the CIA, “Some Dumplings are based on doughs and batters, others based on ingredients ranging from bread to pureed potatoes…  Dumplings may be cooked in a variety of ways, according to type.  They may be simmered in liquid, steamed, poached, baked, pan-fried or deep fried.”

I have learned as a result of research I have done for my recipes (and thanks to Wikipedia) that dumplings can be made from a variety of other starches, too–including rice, corn, cassava, plantains, squash, and grated root vegetables.  They can also be filled or not filled with meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, cheese or sweets.  They can be folded, formed, dropped or plopped.  You name it.  You can probably make just about anything into a dumpling,

Dumplings are often served with a sauce.  I think the day after National Dumpling Day should be Dumpling Sauce Day.  My recipe for Mirin Soy Sauce would make a great start to celebrating that new food holiday—along with any Asian-style dumpling.

Dumplings we have made in my cooking classes (with all ages, kids, teens, parents and children, and adults —everyone loves dumplings) include: Gnocchi, Sui Mei, Happy Wontons (with Pleasurable Sauce of course), Empanadas, Gyoza, Pierogis, Kreplach, Samosas and cake dumplings, to name just a few.  The best part there are so many more.  There is a world of dumplings out there and I am ready to explore.

That being said I love to go back and make some of my favorite childhood dumplings.  Mom made Apple Dumplings only rarely for special occasions, but when she did, I loved them.  Now I make apple dumplings using puff pastry as the wrap and filling it with caramelized apples and ideally serving them with an accompanying Caramel Sauce.

Another dumpling I make takes me back to the very first time I remember having it.  The house I grew up in had a den.  We also had a living room with appropriately fancy furniture in it, but the heart of our home besides the kitchen was the den.  That is where we had the television. The first TV we had was a large, brushed tan metal black-and-white set with rabbit ears on top.  On special nights we got to eat in the den on aluminum-legged, plastic-trayed TV tables.  I don’t remember what made them special other than we got to eat while we were watching TV.  On the night I especially remember, we were positioned in our seats in front of the TV, watching the Jackie Gleason Show (including the June Taylor Dancers) and eating Homemade Chicken and Dumplings.  They were delicious.

Here is my updated recipe for one of my all-time favorite family food memories.

Chicken and Dumplings

For the Chicken:

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 small onion, diced
1 cup diced celery
1 cup peeled and diced carrots
2 cloves garlic, pasted
1 teaspoon basil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked chicken
1 cup thawed frozen peas

For the dumplings:

1 ¼ cup flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons shortening
2/3 cup milk

Method:  Cook the butter and flour in a sauce pot until bubbly.  Add a little of the milk and stir until blended.  Return to the heat and add the remaining milk while stirring.  Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook 10 minutes or so, stirring a lot, until thickened.  Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, basil and salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook another twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare the dumplings.  Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Add the shortening and cut it in with a pastry scraper or pastry cutter.  There should be no large pieces of shortening.  Add the milk and stir just until combined.

Add the chicken and peas to the pot and bring to a boil. Then add spoonfuls of the dumpling mixture onto the bubbling chicken mix.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for ten minutes.  Cover and cook another ten minutes.  Enjoy hot, watching television on a TV tray. Enjoy finding Jackie Gleason Show reruns.

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