A Chicken March


Wind zooms around the corners of my home and sends my beautiful outdoor pillows scampering across the lawn. As I dash outside to reclaim them, I’m reminded that March often seems to be angry, much like its namesake.

Even though January is aptly named for Janus, the god who looks backward and forward, March seems to me to be more two-faced: some of its days melting with warmth and promise of early Spring, some days like today, roaring and spitting fretful rain.

Back inside after capturing my porch pillows, I’m welcomed with the unmistakable aroma of chicken broth. Indeed, I have a pot of such simmering on my cooktop. Earlier, I had placed in it a large, fat stewing chicken (about 5 – 6 pounds) preparatory to the finished product hours later of chicken and dumplings. A hen, necessarily older than a frying chicken, will take longer to cook in order to reap the rich broth that will ultimately flavor this classic dish.

How often I have watched my mother, Najgy, toss this meal together in a kitchen, warm like mine today; not only with anticipation of our evening meal together on a cold rainy night, but with the love that flowed from her hands into the dumplings that she would create to finish the dish. It’s really a very simple dish. First, of course, is to procure the chicken and get it ready to simmer in salted water for a number of hours. Cook until the meat falls easily off the bones. Don’t use boneless chicken, since much flavor is derived from using bone-in chicken.
Meanwhile, I prepare the dumplings, which are my version of homemade pasta. A recipe will follow, but just now I mix my all-purpose flour with a smidgin of good quality olive oil and four or five eggs. I add a bit of salt and start mixing. I do this directly on my counter. The flour goes down first with the salt blended in and I make a volcano shaped mound of it. With only my fingertips I start incorporating the olive oil and egg mixture. As lightly as a butterfly kiss I gently pour just a bit of the mixture into the depression of my flour volcano and start swirling. When all is just mixed, I start kneading and continue until I think my muscles can do no more (actually until the dough is somewhat glossy)! This method has, over the years, given me toned arms and a great deal of stress relief. Then I shape the dough into a ball, cover it with plastic wrap, and step away from it while I take the now cooled and deboned chicken into my purview. I’ll cut nice chunks of this meat (white and dark) and set them aside while I return to my rested dough ball. After I’ve flattened it slightly, I use my marble rolling pin to roll the dough into about a 1/8th inch thickness. Some might want to use a commercial pasta wheel for this step, but since I don’t have one and Najgy did not as well, my pin and my arms will suffice. After it’s all rolled out, I’ll cut it into 2 inch strips and – a crucial step – let the strips rest, or “dry” as Najgy would say.

After that, I’ll assemble the meal by dropping the pasta strips into the boiling broth and cooking until al dente. Then I’ll correct the seasoning, making certain there’s plenty of ground black pepper. After that I’ll gently place the flavorful cubes of chicken into the boiling broth, turn the heat down immediately, let it meld, then ladle it into a bowl for each of us, savoring the results of an effort of love.



Najgy’s Chicken & Dumplings:

1 stewing chicken(4-5lbs.)
(use a fat hen, if possible)
1 large onion, diced
2 & 1/2C. all-purpose flour
1/2C. cake flour
1tsp. salt
4-5 whole eggs
1 tblsp. shortening or extra virgin olive oil

Place chicken and onion in a large pot and cover with water. Add salt & pepper to taste (not the salt listed in the ingredients) Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook until chicken is fork tender. Remove chicken to a baking sheet and allow to cool. Set aside and retain cooking liquid. After cooling, de-bone and cut chicken into 1″ chunks.

Meanwhile, prepare dumplings as follows: on a kneading surface, mix all-purpose flour, cake flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour and add whole eggs into center. Stir slightly with a fork. Begin blending flour mixture into egg mixture from the edges with tips of fingers or a fork. When about half done. add to center either soft shortening or extra virgin olive oil and continue to work flour mixture into eggs until incorporated. Knead slightly, shape into flattened ball and allow to rest about 30 minutes. Roll on lightly floured surface to 1/8″ thickness and cut into 2″ strips. Cut strips into squares if preferred. Allow to dry at room temperature about 30 minutes. Bring reserved chicken broth to a boil and add dumplings a few at a time. Reduce heat; add chicken chunks, season to taste with salt and plenty of pepper. Serve hot.