Chicken and dumplings are similar to chicken noodle soup, but with the comfort level kicked up a notch. The dish combines pieces of chicken in a broth served with dumplings, or round balls of dough cooked right in the broth. The dumplings add a soft, yet hearty texture to the dish, but can end up hard or overly doughy if not handled properly.
Purchase a whole chicken for the most authentic chicken and dumplings. Using a whole chicken gives the dish the most flavor, but you can use boneless chicken to save time. If you decide to use boneless chicken, purchase a 10 oz. can of chicken broth to use as the base. When boneless chicken cooks in water, it won't produce a flavorful enough base since it doesn't have flavor from bones. Recipes may vary for the dumpling dough ingredients and amounts, but use whole milk or buttermilk to moisten the dough. Low-fat milk won't be thick enough to properly hold the dumplings together. Use shortening, not butter or margarine spread, for the flakiest texture. You'll also usually need all-purpose flour and salt.
If you're using a whole chicken, cut it into eight pieces so it can fit more easily into a large soup pot. To make a broth for the dish, cover the chicken with water. It usually requires between 4 and 6 cups. Make sure to season the water with salt or the broth will turn out bland. Heat the chicken and water over a medium heat for about one hour or until the chicken is tender enough to easily pull off the bone. Pull all the chicken off the bones and shred it or cut it into bite-size chunks. Since the broth is the main flavor base of the dish, taste it and add ground black pepper or dried herbs if it's bland. If you're using boneless chicken, prepare the chicken in the same manner, but substitute canned chicken broth for water. Canned broth already contains salt, so don't add more or it will be overwhelming. It should take about 20 minutes for the chicken to become tender.
When making the dumplings, make sure your dry ingredients (such as flour or salt) are thoroughly mixed before you add in the shortening. To ensure the shortening distributes evenly into the dry ingredients, cut it into small cubes and use a pastry blender or a fork to mix. The mixture will look like pea-sized clumps. When you add the milk, pour it in slowly and use your pastry blender or fork to combine it. Adding too much liquid at once will make the dumplings too doughy. Use a rolling pin to evenly flatten the dough to about 1/2 inch thick. You can cut the dough into small pieces or pinch off larger chunks.
To heat the dumplings through, the easiest way is to boil your broth and drop the dumplings in singly. Do not add them in a handful or they may stick together. Once all the dumplings are in the broth, lower the heat to medium so they can heat slowly. The cooking time for the dumplings depends on their size, although it typically takes about 10 minutes or until the dumplings are cooked through and no longer doughy. To ensure the chicken remains moist and not overcooked, add the cooked chicken into the broth after the dumplings are cooked through.