If you'd like to get this soup on the table in less than an hour (it takes me about 35-40 minutes), then there are some simple shortcuts you can take with store bought roast chicken and stock. But if spending an afternoon all snug and warm in your kitchen sounds appealing, then start right here:
2 pounds of chicken thighs
8 cups of water
In a large dutch oven, cover the chicken with the water and bring to a gentle simmer. Poach the thighs until they meat is just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and turn off the stove. Using a tongs, pull the thighs from the broth and set on a plate to catch any drips. Let the chicken cool until you can easily handle it, then shred the meat from the bones and set aside. When cool, wrap the meat and refrigerate.
Return the bones and scraps to the pot and bring again to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot with a lid and keep the heat low. Simmer for at least an hour, or several hours if you have the time. (Overnight in a 200° oven is a great trick.)
Strain the stock through cheesecloth (or paper towel) lined sieve, return to the pot, and allow to come to room temperature. Refrigerate. When you are ready to begin the soup, remove the stock and chicken meat from the refrigerator. Skim any congealed fat from the top of the soup and save (for frying up potatoes - yum!) Begin heating the broth on a low flame.
If you are doing the less-than-an-hour version, start here:
8 cups store-bought chicken broth
1 store-bought roasted chicken (or leftovers!)
Put the broth in a large dutch oven and heat over a low flame. Pick about 2 cups worth of chicken meat from the roast. Set aside.
Both versions can continue on here:
Meanwhile, work on the vegetables:
1 cup thinly sliced carrots (from about two carrots)
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery (from 1 rib of celery)
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion (from about two large onions)
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, chives, or thyme
When the carrots and celery are chopped, add to the simmering stock and start the dumplings.
To make the dumplings:
1 cup of flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons very cold butter
1/2 cup of milk
the chopped herbs from above
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir with a fork to combine. Quickly rub in the butter with your fingers and then add the milk and herbs. Stir until it all comes together.
Add the onions and reserved chicken to the soup. Stir and taste for salt and pepper. Raise the heat a little so the soup is simmering again and drop the dumpling dough into the soup by pulling rough balls from the dough, slightly smaller than a ping-pong ball. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and poke at the dumplings, which should be bopping on the surface, to turn them. Keep the soup at a steady simmer and cook another 10 minutes or so, or until the dumplings are done.
• You can still have the all-homemade version of this soup in less than an hour if you make the stock and shred the chicken a day or two before. Or use homemade stock from your freezer.
• If you are starting from scratch, you can poach bone-in chicken breasts or even a whole chicken instead of the thighs.
• Usually stocks are made with onion, celery, carrot, and even peppercorns and a bay leaf. But lately I've been making my stock with just chicken (mostly the bones) and water and let me tell you, I'm not going back! The result is a rich, intensely chicken-y flavored broth that I can take in any number of directions.
• Be sure to use a large pot so that you will have enough surface area to cook your dumplings. They will expand as they cook.
• Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated gently over a low flame. I scoop out the dumplings and store them separately covered in a bowl on the theory that it keeps them from getting too soggy.
Related: Recipe: Chinese Chicken Soup
(Images: Dana Velden)