Big Mama’s Southern Homemade Chicken and Buttermilk Dumplings is hands-down the perfect comfort food. It’s a showstopper recipe for entertaining, and feeds an army!
One of my favorite “foodie” friends, Tim Martin, introduced me to his “Chicken and Dunklin” recipe. I knew from the very first time that this recipe had to make it into the book. Tim so generously gave his approval, and the rest is history! He is an amazing cook. You really need to check him out.
After I made this recipe for the fourth time, I thought to myself, “Why is it that I love this recipe so much?” I was stumped. Finally it came to me that every time I ate this meal, thoughts of my grandmother cooking over her stove popped into my head. When she served Chicken and Dumplings (very much like this traditional Southern recipe), she talked incessantly of her mama, “Big Mama,” teaching her how to make them. I think those are her favorite memories.
In preparation for my presentation at the Country Living Fair in Nashville and Atlanta, I made and re-made this recipe experimenting with different brand flours, rolling the dumplings, dropping the dumplings, making homemade stock, and using store-bought stock in the recipe.
I’m super excited to report that this Southern Chicken and Buttermilk Dumpling Recipe straight from my book, Harvest, won all the taste tests in my home of 9 judges; no changes necessary.
The best tasting chickens are those that have been free to roam and are slow-grown working their muscles as they find insects for food. Especially in these low and slow recipes, the flavor is absolutely more luscious and silky than those that are young chickens.
In all of my testing, I found that the stock is the most important part of the final dish’s flavor. Certainly you can use prepared stock, but I find it tastes metallic. I’m not saying to never use stock from the store, but there is nothing like homemade stock. It’s super easy to make, and if you are stewing the chickens anyway, you might as well make your own stock.
It’s all in the Stock!
There are two requirements for good stock: body and flavor. Both comes from the collagen created from cooking the chicken low and slow.
I especially like older-aged organic free-range chickens when making stock. I look at this meal as one last way that a good hen or rooster who has served you well can serve one last time. If you don’t have access to old chickens, chicken wings are a great substitute. The wings and legs are the working part of a chicken, therefore they have a lot of connective tissue and muscle fiber that can be broken down into body and flavor.
The recipe is below, but I feel compelled to tell you just how easy it is here. After rustically cutting onions, garlic, celery, and carrots, place them in a large pot along with a few herbs and the chicken. Cover with water, bring to a boil, lower to simmer and let it go for about an hour. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and pour the remaining stock over a mesh colander into a large bowl. There you go. How easy.
Now for the Dumplings!
In my quest for the perfect dumpling, I experimented with all-purpose flour, self-rising flour, butter, and Crisco. I preferred the all-purpose flour without adding salt, but the rest of my family (all of them) preferred the self-rising flour. We all felt those made with Crisco were the best.
Did you know there are great differences between Northern and Southern Dumplings? Northerners prepare dumplings like the Southerner’s drop biscuits. They add flour to the broth to make it thicker and then drop spoonfuls of the dumpling mix into the broth. They are more dense than the Southern version. You can lighten them up by adding an egg white and some baking soda, which many Northern cooks do.
There is a time and place for that, but in the South we like our dumplings square, a little lighter, and thinner. Interestingly, Southerners like a biscuit on the side of their dumplings! Isn’t that funny? It’s all made practically the same as dumpling ingredients.
Dumpling Making Tips
1. Don’t add too much fat to your dumplings. They will disintegrate in the broth.
2. You can use your food processor to make the dumpling mixture. My hands are my favorite tool and I find it quite empowering to make something without machines of any kind, but when I am in a rush the processor really helps.
3. Tim’s Tip: Don’t be afraid to overwork the dough. You can’t overwork it in dumplings. Biscuits…yes, but not dumplings.
4. I know the measurements to my dumpling recipe by heart, which encourages me to make it more. I recommend using measuring tools and then pouring the ingredients in your hands or a bowl to get a feel for what the right amount looks and feels like. By doing this, you will eliminate time from future dumpling making.
5. You may find that you need more or less buttermilk. Give the flour a little time to soak up the liquid as you work the flour-buttermilk mixture. Make sure you don’t add too much liquid or, like the fat, it will disintegrate when you put it in your boiling stock.
6. A pizza cutter is perfect for making the Southern square dumplings.
7. When you drop your dumplings in the stock make sure that the stock has come to a boil, because the temperature is going to drop once you put them in the pot. Put the dumplings in quickly so that they cook at the same rate. You want to put them in separately though, so that they don’t stick together and make one big dumpling.
You’ll find this recipe and others like it in my book, Harvest!
Big Mama’s Southern Chicken and Buttermilk Dumplings
- 1 whole free range organic chicken
- 4 quarts 1 gallon water
- 3 stalks celery chopped
- 2 carrots
- 1 Vidalia or yellow onion chopped
- 5 sprigs parsley
- 5 sprigs rosemary
- 3 whole garlic cloves
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- ½ tablespoon pepper
- 3 cups self-rising flour
- ½ cup shortening
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- ½ cup buttermilk plus more if dough is too dry
- Bring chicken, water, celery, carrots, onion, parsley, rosemary, garlic, and butter to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for at least 3 hours or until the chicken falls off the bones. Make sure to skim the foam as needed.
- Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut shortening into flour until fully incorporated. Add buttermilk slowly into the flour a little at the time. When the dough is easily formed into a ball, knead the dough.
- Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/16 of an inch or even thinner. Pinch or cut into 1 inch squares (I use a pizza cutter for this). Set aside.
- When chicken is falling off the bone, remove the pieces to a plate. Strain the broth throwing away vegetables and herbs.
- Add broth back to the pot and add butter, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Pull all the meat from the chicken and shred. Return chicken to the broth.
- Add the dumplings to the broth and bring to a hard boil. Allow them to boil about 2 minutes and turn off the heat. Stir gently with a wooden spoon every few minutes for the next 30 minutes. This step releases the starch in the dumplings, promotes creaminess, and intensifies the buttery flavors!