Recipe Review

I Tried Dolly Parton’s Famous Chicken & Dumplings and It’s the Easiest Cozy Dinner

published Nov 30, 2023
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a pot of chicken and dumpling soup
Credit: Kiersten Hickman

There are a lot of chicken and dumpling recipes out there, and if you look closely, you’ll notice that many of those recipes have a creamy base packed with vegetables. While these recipes are certainly hearty and delicious, truthfully, this isn’t the traditional old-fashioned Southern way of making chicken and dumplings. You may be surprised to learn that the Southern way of making chicken and dumplings is actually brothy with far fewer ingredients, and Dolly Parton’s Chicken and Dumplings recipe fits the bill.

Dolly Parton’s recipe is simple, despite taking a little extra time to make. Thankfully there’s no roux or cream sauce or even chopping that takes place with this recipe. Instead, to make the base, all you need is water, salt, a whole peeled onion, leftover celery leaves (yes, the part you usually throw away!) and an entire chicken. That’s right — a whole chicken.

Curious about what a traditional Southern chicken and dumplings recipe tastes like, I decided to give Dolly’s recipe a try. While it’s much different than any other chicken and dumplings recipe I’ve ever made, I do admit, I really liked how easy it was to throw together… and it may make an appearance in my regular weeknight rotation. 

Get the recipe: Dolly Parton’s Chicken and Dumplings

How to Make Dolly Parton’s Chicken and Dumplings

Place a 3-pound chicken breast-side down in a Dutch oven, then add in two quarts of water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and add in 3/4 teaspoon of pepper, 1 whole onion peeled (yes, leave it whole), and 1/4 cup of chopped celery leaves.

Leave the chicken to boil until fully cooked through — this should take around 45 minutes to an hour. You may need to flip the chicken halfway through to cook both sides thoroughly.

Remove the chicken in a large bowl or onto a rimmed baking sheet and set it aside to cool. Strain the stock, and toss the onion and the celery leaves. Pour the stock back into the Dutch oven.

While the chicken is cooling, prepare the dumpling dough. Mix together 2 cups (240 grams) of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Measure out 3 tablespoons of vegetable shortening and cut small dollops into the flour mixture. Whisk together with a fork, making sure to break down the shortening to even smaller pieces. 

Slowly pour in 3/4 cup of milk as you mix the dough (I did about 1/4 cup at a time and mixed) until the dough is fully incorporated. Using a spatula, knead the dough for about 5 minutes, then set aside.

Bring the chicken broth in the Dutch oven back to a boil. While this is happening, shred the chicken with clean hands and cut the large chunks into bite-sized pieces.

Add the chicken back to the broth. Rip off small chunks of dumpling dough and plop them into the broth. Cover the Dutch oven and let it cook for 10 minutes. 

Mix the soup with a ladle so everything is incorporated evenly, then serve in bowls with an optional sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Credit: Kiersten Hickman

My Honest Review

At first, I admittedly was a bit skeptical about boiling an entire chicken. Typically when I cook chicken I roast it in the oven (or if it’s smaller pieces, I sometimes fry it in a pan), so boiling an entire 3-pound chicken in water sort of freaked me out. I know this is a very common practice; I just haven’t done it before, so I was a bit nervous to try it. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was, and the chicken actually cooked really well. Plus, boiling an entire chicken with the skin results in a tasty homemade chicken broth, which made me feel like a Southern-cooking boss queen.

However, I did have two qualms with this recipe. The first had to do with the taste, I feel like it needs a little more oomph — some extra salt and pepper, maybe some poultry seasoning, and herbs like thyme. I’m also wondering what the stock would taste like if I added even more to it, like carrots, celery stalks instead of just the leaves, and maybe some garlic cloves. 

My second qualm had to do with timing. While this recipe says it only takes 30 minutes, it ended up being more like two hours. Thankfully, it wasn’t two hours of being hands-on; the chicken has to boil for an hour or so to cook completely, and then you need time for it to cool so you don’t burn your hands trying to pull it apart. Between the boiling, waiting, making the dumplings, then throwing everything together again, two hours is a safer bet when thinking through how long this recipe will actually take.

All in all, I really enjoyed how easy this was to put together — even if the chicken did take a bit longer to cook. It felt really simple and used a few ingredients, which were mostly things I already had besides the chicken, of course.

Credit: Kiersten Hickman

5 Tips for Making Dolly Parton’s Chicken and Dumplings

  1. Boil the chicken for an hour. The recipe doesn’t specify how long it takes to boil the entire chicken, so I would block off an hour. I placed the chicken breast-side down at first, then ended up flipping it halfway through so the other side could cook as well. 
  2. Shred the chicken with your hands. You could try carving it with a fork and knife, but I found it easier to simply shred the chicken with clean hands. The chicken will quite literally fall apart just as the recipe says, so using your hands just makes the whole process easier. 
  3. Let the dumpling dough sit for about 15 minutes. The dough for the dumplings is a bit sticky and may be hard to knead on a surface, so I did so in a bowl with a rubber spatula. When I was finished, I let the dough sit while I shred the chicken, and when I came back to it the dough felt softer and easier to work with. 
  4. Make smaller dumplings. I know the big dumplings make for a better picture, but I promise you, you’ll want to throw in smaller dumplings instead. The recipe does call for you to make smaller dumplings and mix them in, which will fill out the soup a little more and probably make for a better eating experience.
  5. Play around with taste. As I mentioned, this recipe is lacking a little flavor, so feel free to get creative with what you put in your broth as you boil your chicken. I’d recommend herbs, celery, carrots, garlic, and maybe even swapping out the onion for a few peeled shallots instead.