Don't Be Chicken of Dumplings Transcript

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Itchy and Twitchy
              Musical director
              AB's Mom
              Mom and Mother-in-law Puppets

    Greetings, American cooks. I trust that when you see this flag behind me, you know that humble pie is on the menu. Not literally a crust filled with animal entrails and bait, mind you, but a dose of humility hefted upon you. Because you—and by "you" I mean you [points at us]—you've not exactly kept up with your culinary civics classes, have you? Well, I think it's high time you faced the spinning drum of your redemption. Ha-ha-ha-ha.
    As per our usual modus operandi, this vessel has been filled with cards, each of which bears the name of an American classic dish in desperate need of our collective attentions. Now since we've received some pesky e-mails of late suggesting that moi has been superseding the dictums of fate by asserting my will over what is obviously a completely random selection process, we've decided to invite my attorneys, Twitchy and Itchy, to oversee the proceedings. Additionally, our musical director is going to play a little ditty, and we'll spin the wheel during the time that the ditty is playing. And when he stops playing the ditty, we'll stop and extract the card.

AB: Hit it, Maestro!

    [the tumbler spins, he pulls out a card] And today's American classic is ... Ooh, you know, we've done this one before.

ITCHY AND TWITCHY: [both wrestle the card that AB tries to put back]
AB:  Hey, no. I just don't want ... Oh! Hey, be easy, I'm just a lowly cook. Come on, come on, come on. No, I don't ... No, no, no, I don't want to do it. Oh, okay, okay, okay, I'll say it. Today's American classic is chicken and dumplings. There, are you happy? Let go of me, you brute. [the phone rings] Oh, see there. It's already starting. [answers the phone] Hi, Mom.
AB's MOM: [over phone] Alton, are you insane, out of your mind?
AB: Just had a feeling. Yeah, I know, uh-huh, our history. Yeah, page 843 of the family cookbook, I think. Yeah, chicken and dumplings. Sure, mom. Oh, your friends are watching. Okay, listen, I got another call, bye-bye. [switches to the other line] Hello? Oh, hi, Winifred. Yes, ma'am.

    [whispering] My mother-in-law.

AB: Yes, ma'am. I know, it's the best ever. Sure, you gave it to me last year. I hung it up right away. Yeah, it's beautiful and authentic. And yes, ma'am, very, very delicious. Oh, everybody there is counting on me, huh? Okay, goodbye.

    Well, loyal viewers, your faithful host is pretty much doomed. You see, what my mom thinks chicken dumplings should be and what my mother-in-law thinks—knows that they should be— are, ... Well, let's just say that their views are somewhat conflicting.

MOTHER AND MOTHER-IN-LAW PUPPETS: [begin hitting each other]

AB: Come on, why is there so much hitting on this show?

    Anyway, hopefully with some sound science, the right bird, and a new unlisted number, out of this chaos and fisticuffs we'll b e able to bring forth some really great chicken and dumplings that will qualify as first-rate ...

[Good Eats Theme]

The Kitchen

GUESS: Robin Hood

    So, why can't my mother's chicken and dumpling recipe abide that of my mother-in-law, or vice versa? Well, I'll tell you this. It's got nothing to do with chicken. You see, my mother and our family, going back a dozen generations, belong to the school of big, floaty, fluffy dumplings, a.k.a. "swimmers". While my mother-in-law and her kin, going back, I don't know, a thousand years, are of the hard, flat, and slippery dumpling school, a.k.a. "slickers."

    Now if you know anything about American culinary history, you might assume this to be yet another skirmish between north and south, where the higher-class, puffy, leavened dumplings are up on top, and the flat slickers are down below. But wait.

aka Swimmers

aka Slickers

    Although my mother's family hails from the north Georgia mountains—Cornelia, to be exact—diligent research clearly shows that our style of dumplings hailed not only from north of the Mason-Dixon line, but ultimately eastern, in northern England, Norfolk, to be exact.



    Now many references to such dumplings exist. Say this one from Robert Armin, one of Lord Chamberlain's men, the theatrical troupe responsible for premiering so many of Shakespeare's plays. Now in his 1608 work "A Nest of Ninnies;” I love that. He describes someone as looking like a Norfolk dumpling, "thick and short." Now looking back even further, it doesn't take a professional historian to follow this edible chain back through the Norman conquest in northern France, where dumplings much like my mother's are cooked in fish stew.

    Now my mother-in-law's family is from north Carolina—Cornelius, to be exact—which is only 146 nautical miles northeast of Cornelia. Now there, their flat dumplings are more authentically southern and they descend from the hard dumplings of southern England, specifically Sussex. Which, I might add, was invaded in 477 A.D. by Saxons from Germany.



    Did I mention that my wife's family is of a German extraction? Coincidence? Oh, I don't think so. What we have here, kids, is nothing less than a culinary extension of the Norman-Saxon conflict, made immortal by popular stories such as Robin Hood and, of course, Ivanhoe. This is clearly epic stuff, folks, and these rifts are not about to be mended. So we're just going to have to make both dumplings.

ROBIN HOOD AND IVANHOE: [both are Itchy and Twitchy dressed respectively]
You guys look really familiar to me. Excuse me.

    We are going to begin with the flat, or slicker, dumplings [a pillow is thrown in at him] as they require considerably more time to prep than ...

AB: You hit me with another pillow, and we're done professionally.

    Like most southern baked goods, my mother-in-law's dumplings are based on the biscuit method, wherein flour is mixed with leavening and seasoning, solid fat is cut in, cold liquid is added, and the dough is briefly kneaded.


Global dumplings:
Germany - Konigsbergerklops
Italy - Gnocchi
France – Quenelle
Korea – Mandoo
Mexico – Albondigas

The Kitchen

    Our rolled dumplings begin with eight ounces of all-purpose flour, by weight, please. It doesn't take that long. To that we will add two teaspoons of baking powder and one teaspoon of kosher salt. And just mix that in with your fingers. 8 Ounces All Purpose Flour

2 tsp. Baking Powder +
1 tsp. Kosher Salt

    Yeah, I know. Why leaven flat dumplings, right? Well, they're only going to be mostly flat. Keep in mind, commercially available baking powders, by and large, are double-acting, okay? So although the first blast of CO2 that is released when the dough comes together will be lost to the atmosphere during the drying phase. There will still be another mini blast when the dumplings hit the hot liquid later. And that will leaven the dumplings just enough to tenderize them.

    All right, next up, a third of a cup of vegetable shortening. That's two and three eighths ounces by weight. What I usually do is just break this little hockey puck up into pieces, and then work it into the dough. You want to work fast, with the fingertips only. The reason: heat. Believe me, if this fat melts, you're going to have a devil of a time rolling the dumplings at thinly as is required. 1/3 Cub Vegetable
    Make a little well in the center, and then pour in one half cup of skim milk. Actually, I'm going to hold out on about an ounce of that just to see if I'm going to need it. I don't want this any wetter than absolutely necessary. Just work it together with your fingers. And it looks a little shaggy. I'm going to add about half of the remaining milk, but I don't think I'm going to need it all. ½ Cub Skim Milk

    Now just knead three or four times, just enough to bring the dough together. And then walk away. That's right, I said walk away. You don't want to work air into this mixture, and we don't want to melt the fat, and we don't want to toughen the final product by developing too much gluten. So just stop.
    Get yourself a dough scraper and divide into two equal pieces. There. And we'll roll them one at a time. Put down a piece of parchment paper, bit of flour, no exact measurement there, and I like to kind of start with the dough looking like, I don't know, a big white candy bar. Flour up your rolling pin and then knock this down to one sixteenth of an inch in thickness. Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Hey, you could do this with a pasta machine." Well, believe me, I have tried and made a big mess. This is definitely the way to go.
    There. That looks good. Now as you finish rolling each of the dumpling sheets, cover with a clean tea towel. We're going to let these sit for eight hours. Why? Well, because we're switching from making biscuits to making dried pasta. Over time, if there isn't too much humidity, the starch will soak up what it can hold of the milk inside the dough, and the rest will simply evaporate. And that'll give us a noodle that'll hold its own when it hits the hot broth. Okay. Now if you skip this step, the dumplings will fall apart, and your impatience will be punish-ed.
    Now let's repeat with the second dough. Just as before. Remember: one sixteenth of an inch and it doesn't have to be pretty.
    Now both of our patients are resting comfortably on the counter [in a sheet pan], nice and thin, covered with tea towels. And set your timer for eight hours.
    Now old-school chicken and dumpling makers, like my mother-in-law, swear that this is a cool-weather only dish. For one thing, the dumplings cure better in dry, cool air. But there's another reason. You see, out in the country, fall is naturally the time that the little baby spring chicks are all grown up. And typically there's one or two big old roosters hanging around, more than are needed for cock-a-doodle-doo duty, if you know what I mean.

AB: Hatchet, please.

    And so it is time for us to move on ...

I & T: [enter with legal papers]
Hey, what are you guys ... What is this? My contract? Absolutely no ki-- Oh, okay. Well...
T: [motions to hand him the chicken]
AB: Go on, buddy.

    Well, who wants to go to the mega mart? I do!


BEEF TENDERLOIN        $3.99 lb
RIBEYE STEAK           $7.69 lb
FILET MIGNON           $9.99 lb
FLAT IRON STEAK        $3.99 lb
GROUND CHUCK           $2.59 lb
TOP SIRLOIN            $3.99 lb
BEEF CUBED STEAK       $3.49 lb
BEEF SHORT RIBS        $3.99 lb
CHICKEN THIGHS            $1.99 lb
CHICKEN DRUMSTICKS        $1.09 lb
WHOLE CHICKEN             $1.29 lb
MIXED PORK CHOPS          $1.99 lb
PORK TENDERLOIN           $3.99 lb
BABY BACK RIBS            $3.89 lb
SPARE RIBS                $1.99 lb
CENTER CUB BACON          $3.49 lb

    Now the closest thing to an old rooster you're likely to find at your local mega mart is a stewing hen. That is a laying chicken who has exceeded her egg-laying usefulness. Unlike a young broiler, fryer, or even a roaster, the stewing hen has lived long enough to develop real poultry flavor and connective tissue, which we can dissolve into gelatin, a process that can take hours, unless, of course, you have a time machine.

The Kitchen

    My favorite time machine, of course, the pressure cooker. And we've applied pressure on this show before to such long-cooking eats as chili [The Big Chili] and beef stock [Pressure]. But let's review the principles.

    The food goes in, water is added, the vessel is sealed, heat is applied, and this regulator, typically a spring-loaded piston—the old weighted jigglers went out a long time ago—maintains a pressure of 15 pounds per square inch. That raises the boiling point of water, at sea level of course, from 212 to 252 degrees Fahrenheit. Why, you ask? How, you ask? Want to take a ride, I ask?


    [enters a closet which is an elevator, the door closes, he presses the DOWN button and begins his decent] If you're a fan of this show, you've probably heard me say that the boiling point of water depends upon elevation. [begins to feel pressure in his ears] Mmm. It's more exact to say that the boiling point of water depends upon atmospheric pressure, okay? Now a pot of water sitting on the beach in Rio de Janeiro on a standard atmospheric day will be experiencing a pressure we represent barometrically as 29.92 inches of mercury. To reach a boil, we have to pour enough energy in the form of heat into that pot to overcome that pressure. Now at sea level that's 212 degrees Fahrenheit. But what if we were to stack more sky on top of that vessel by placing it at the bottom of a very, very, very deep hole?
    Ah, here we are: Subbasement 1,667.*

Subbasement 1,667

    Even if I didn't already know that the bottom of this shaft is 3.7878 miles beneath my kitchen floor—that's 20,000 feet—I would be able to ascertain as much by simply looking at this thermometer, which indicates that this water is boiling at 252 degrees Fahrenheit. Now a little math tells us that means there's an extra 15 pounds per square inch of pressure being applied to this water. It means that we could cook our chicken down here very, very quickly. Or we could, you know, buy a pressure cooker, which is probably cheaper than digging a 3.7878 mile deep hole. [enters the elevator and pushes the KITCHEN button, the scene cut to him exiting in the kitchen]

Dennis Papin, a French physicist, invented the “steam digestor.”
The pressure cooker exploded on its first demonstration, in 1679.

The Kitchen

    Finally, our stewing hen—which is free of giblets and any, you know, neck stuff so to speak—goes into the capsule, a seven quart pressure cooker, along with a tablespoon of kosher salt and enough water to just reach the maximum fill line. Do not add water above the maximum fill line or something may happen. I don't know what, but it probably wouldn't be good. 5 to 5 ½ Pound Stewing Hen
1 Tbs. Kosher Salt
    Now check the gasket on the underside of your lid. Make sure that it is seated in position, and apply and lock the lid. There. Now this goes over high heat until the vessel starts to whistle loudly at you. It'll take about 20 minutes.

Follow manufacturer's instructions for your pressure cooker.

    [later, the PC is steaming] Now this is a sure sign that we have attained all the pressure we need. We only have to maintain it now, and that means less energy. So turn the heat to low and let the vessel just barely hiss at you for 45 minutes. Then trigger whatever pressure-relief valve you have. And wait for the locks to release. Then you can crack open the capsule, and obviously our bird has undergone something of a transformation.
    I'm just going to get him out. Oops. Sorry: her, her. Sometimes they come out in one piece, which is nice. Sometimes they don't. There we go, just put that in a bowl and allow that to cool. We can't really manipulate it yet.
    I'm going to get all of the goop out of this broth that I possibly can. So I'm just going to use the same spider. Line that with a few pieces, or a few folds, of cheesecloth and carefully strain through it. My mother-in-law would say this isn't necessary, but I like my broth clean.
    If there are any little chicken chunks down at the very bottom of the pot, whatever you do, don't throw them away, that would be wasteful. This is not a wasteful dish, you know. Just add it to the rest of the chicken, and it'll taste just as good. While that rests, we will deal with the bird. You have got to pick off every bit of meat that you possibly can and break it down into bite-size chunks.
    As you can see, our dumpling dehydration initiative has been a success. They don't look very appealing right now, but with proper rehydration and hot liquid, they will soften and set without falling apart.
    Now I use my pizza cutter for this, and I bear down enough to cut through both layers. And I'm going with about a half inch to one inch strips. Don't worry if they break apart. They will, and that's a good thing. Just scoop them up and put them a handful at a time into the hot liquid.
    Closely monitor your heat, kids. We need convective motion to keep things moving, to knock some starch off the dumplings and into the broth, where it can swell and thicken. If the liquid's too cool, that won't happen and the soup will be thin. Boil too hard, however, and the slicks will simply be blown to smithereens.
    Set your clock for ten minutes, and every now and then just kind of push the dumplings down into the hot broth. No stirring, just gentle pushing. Then load up a handful of chicken into a bowl and prepare to dine.

    Now some people like a whole lot of dumpling and not a lot of broth. Me, I'm kind of a 50-50 kind of guy, I guess. Just a couple of ladles. And then my only adornment is black pepper and a lot of it. At least three or four big grinds, there. Mmm. Freshly Ground Black Pepper

    You know, I actually think my mother-in-law would be proud of me.

MOTHER-IN-LAW PUPPET: [enters and rests her head on AB's shoulder]
Hey, that's nice.
AB: Oh, um, hi, mom. Look, I don't think we're going to have time to make yours on the show today ...
MP: [punches AB in the mounth]
AB: Hey, ow, ow! I mean, we're running out of time, hey!

    You know, for a show about comfort food, I'm not very comfortable.
    Thanks to the magic of television, not only do I have my pot of chicken and dumplings, I have another identical pot of broth standing by for just this sort of disaster.

On the 29th of every month Argentines gather for a good
luck dumpling called “night of the noquis.”

The Kitchen

    Now fluffy northern drop-style dumplings, aka swimmers ... [prepares as if someone is going to through a pillow at him but none comes] Good. ... don't require very much time at all because they ... [the pillow finally hits him from the other direction] ... there's no drying phase involved, and a typical procedure would look like this.

    We're going to boil the butter and the H2O together, that is the chicken broth, add flour, beat until the mixture is cool, and then work in eggs, remind you of anything? If you answered pate a choux or choux paste, give yourself a nice big hug, because that is exactly what my mama's dumplings really are. Which means that they are as French as Chanel number five. Only they taste good.


    We begin by moving one half cup of the very hot broth over to another vessel. In this case I'm going to use a two-quart saucier. Now put that to high heat and add three tablespoons of unsalted butter along with a one half teaspoon of salt, kosher salt, of course. ½ Cup Chicken Broth
3 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
½ tsp. Kosher Salt
    Now when it comes to a boil, dump in two and three quarter ounces of all-purpose flour all-of-a-sudden-like. 2 ¾ Ounces All Purpose Flour,
    About ½ Cup

    By using hot liquid, we're forcing the starch and the flour to rapidly hydrate to the point of gelatinization, that is when the long starch molecules unfurl. This means the dough is essentially saturated, okay? It's drunk in most of the moisture that it can take, and it will therefore maintain its bready demeanor even when it hits the hot liquid later.
    So we'll move our dough ball off and hit it with the hand mixer on low. Believe me, this is a place you want to use a power tool. It's going to look kind of like big couscous. That's okay.

    Add the first of two eggs and work it in as much as you can. It should completely disappear. The mixture will still look pretty gnarly, though. And then add the second egg a few minutes later and work until you've got a smooth and very sticky batter. Like that. It's kind of like really sticky mashed potatoes. 2 Eggs, Room Temperature

    And we're going to move that into a zip-top bag. Bigger is better in this case because this stuff is sticky and difficult to work with. Get every little bit. There. Now work out as much air as possible and then snip off the end with your shears. I'm going with about a half inch to three quarter inch opening. Then simply snip off one inch pieces into the boiling liquid—not rolling boil, mind you, but definitely boiling liquid—until basically there's just nothing left in the bag. Place on the cover and cook for eight to ten minutes.

    During that time you can prep up another bowl with some more of that delicious chicken. And look at that. Nice big pillowy dumplings. Good for eating, not so good for hitting, which is okay by me. There. And, of course, as before, pepper. Lots of luscious black pepper. There. Freshly Ground Black Pepper

    And so our tale of two dumplings, and chicken, reaches a peaceful conclusion with the drop dumplings of my mother and the flat, slick dumplings of my mother-in-law coexisting peacefully, side by side on the same table. Despite conflicting origins; north, south, England, Germany, France, and hostile histories, we see that here in America food has the power to bring harmony to discord, healing where there was hatred. There's a lesson in that for all of us.

AB: And while we're on the subject, listen, mom, I was thinking we'd come to your house for Thanksgiving dinner, okay? Then you can come over to ours for Christmas breakfast, and then everybody will be happy, right, yeah?
PUPPETS: [both begin to hit AB]

    Of course not. See you next time on Good Eats. Oooo.

*Anal retentive editor's note: AB traveled in the elevator for 43 seconds from speed up to stop. If he were to have gone 20,000 feet below the surface of his kitchen, he would have been traveling approximately 317 MPH. Terminal velocity for a human body is about 124 MPH. One can only surmise that a falling elevator in an enclosed shaft would be less than that. So we must conclude that AB's elevator is being pulled down to overcome the air resistance in the shaft. Without knowing how to do the math, I believe AB would be in free fall or pushed against the ceiling for most of the trip down. Obviously, AB's elevator could never have existed.
    On a side note, the deepest mine is 3.9 km or 2.42 miles. AB would have the deepest shaft in the world.
    What is nice to note is that with 1,667 "floors" of his basement, at 20,000 feet this is roughly 12 feet per floor which is about right for the average floor height in office buildings.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 05/01/2011