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  • Washington Post Dumplings are an ideal addition to comfort food such as Sheri's Shortcut Chicken Stew.

  • Beef Stew with Sweet Potato Dumplings is full of flavor.

  • Washington Post photos Tomato Stew with Basil Dumplings can be an entrée or side dish.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018 1:00 am

Some added comfort

Dumplings serve as ideal complement to wintertime stews

Sheri Castle | Washington Post

Kitchen 101

• Because the dough is leavened (or raised, as some cooks would say), stir it together right before it goes atop the stew.

• Bring the stew to a boil before adding the dough. One might worry that the boiling stew would cause the dumplings to break apart, but actually the opposite is true. The hot liquid quickly seals the dumplings, so they rise instead of spread. It is akin to baking biscuits in a very hot oven.

• Don't peek inside the pot until the dumplings are likely to be done. Lifting the lid too soon or too often lets heat escape and deflates the dumplings.

• A one-ounce spring-release scoop, such as a No. 30 disher, makes quick work of creating uniform dumplings. Scoop, drop. Scoop, drop. But in lieu of a scoop, two largish soup spoons will do. Use one to lift the dough from its mixing bowl and the second to push the dough onto the burbling stew.

A simmering pot of fragrant stew earns top honors when it comes to comfort food, but the comfort doubles when it is topped with fluffy dumplings. They are the bonus prize in each bowlful – the unexpected delight that makes the meal special enough to feel restorative. Such a dish sure hits the spot on a winter evening, just right for a cozy family supper, although it can be the sleeper hit of a casual dinner gathering as well.

Dumplings come in a host of shapes and sizes around the world, but most are a type of simple bread or pastry that enhance or extend more expensive ingredients. The ones in the accompanying recipes are pillows of light yet substantial dough added to the pot shortly before the stew is served. They take their cues from drop biscuits rather than pastry, so there's no rolling, shaping or futzing. Just stir up the dough, spoon it into the pot, cover and come back in about a half-hour.

All these dumplings, which are about the size of a golf ball, float atop the stew as they cook, resulting in puffed tops, fluffy middles and tender bottoms – more like bread than noodles. When the pot lid is lifted, the aromas and experience are heady.

Sheri's Shortcut Chicken Stew with Fluffy Dumplings

Here, fluffy and biscuit-like dumplings float like clouds atop a simple stew of large pieces of tender chicken studded with bright orange carrots and flecks of herbs. Rich broth with plenty of body that actually tastes like chicken is the bedrock of this stew and other recipes.

A note about the rotisserie chickens: We have called for small birds, and all their meat can be used. But if you buy larger rotisserie birds, like the ones at Costco, only use the white meat and reserve the dark meat for another use. Why? Because using all the meat from a large bird will thicken the stew to the point where the dumplings won't be able to float.

For the broth and stew:

2 small, plain rotisserie chickens (see headnote)

4 cups cold water

8 cups low-sodium chicken broth (store-bought or homemade)

3 large thyme sprigs

3 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 small onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)

2 medium ribs celery, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)

2 medium carrots, scrubbed well and cut into thin rounds (about 11/2 cups)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

For the dumplings:

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled

2 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening (may substitute leaf lard)

3/4 cup half-and-half

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

For the broth and stew: Pull the meat from the chickens and tear it into largish bite-size pieces; cover and refrigerate until needed.

Place the carcasses and skin in a large saucepan or small pot. Add the cold water, broth, thyme sprigs and 1 teaspoon of the salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for about an hour, until the carcasses fall apart and the liquid reduces to about 8 cups and tastes like rich chicken soup. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a large saucepan; discard solids. Stir in the vinegar and keep the broth warm on the lowest heat setting.

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, thyme leaves and a pinch of salt, stirring to coat. Cook for 8 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften, stirring often. Add the broth and cook for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Season with the remaining 2 teaspoons salt and the pepper. Stir in the reserved rotisserie chicken; reduce the heat to low.

For the dumplings: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and pepper in a medium bowl. Work in the butter and shortening with your fingertips until the mixture is crumbly. Add the half-and-half and stir only until combined to form a soft, sticky dough.

Bring the chicken stew to a boil over medium-high heat. Use a 1-ounce scoop or two soup spoons to drop golf-ball-size dumplings evenly over the surface of the stew. Reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the dumplings are firm, fluffy and somewhat dry on top.

Uncover and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tomato Stew with Basil Dumplings

The next time you're contemplating pasta but can't get excited about it, give this old-timey recipe a go. It's substantial enough to serve as a meatless entree but also makes an unexpected side to serve with steaks or a Sunday roast. The stew is a wonderful use of canned tomatoes, a stalwart pantry staple.

The key to tasty tomatoes is to use them in their best form at the time, and this time of year, that's going to be canned.

For the stew:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

Three 14-ounce cans chunky tomato puree

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

For the dumplings:

1 cup flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small bits and chilled

3 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves, plus torn or ribboned basil, for garnish

1 large egg

1/2 cup whole milk

For the stew: Melt the butter in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir the onion, bell pepper, salt, dried basil and black pepper; cook, 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the tomato puree, brown sugar and vinegar. Reduce the heat to medium; let the stew cook while you make the dumplings.

For the dumplings: Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Work in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil.

Whisk together the egg and milk in a liquid measuring cup. Pour over the flour mixture and stir just long enough to form a soft, sticky dough.

Bring the stew to a boil over medium-high heat. Use a 1-ounce spring-release scoop or two soup spoons to drop golf-ball-size dumplings evenly over the surface of the stew. Cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the dumplings are firm, fluffy and somewhat dry on top.

Uncover and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the torn or ribboned basil and serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

– Adapted from “The Southern Living Community Cookbook: Celebrating Food and Fellowship in the American South,” by the editors of Southern Living and Sheri Castle (Southern Living, 2014)

Beef Stew with Sweet Potato Dumplings

This stew is simple, but not plain. Fruity red wine, aromatic spices and fresh orange season the gravy and work wonders with the sweet potato dumplings.

This recipe can also be made with venison shoulder or a Boston butt pork shoulder.

Make ahead: For best flavor, make the stew in advance, then cool, cover and refrigerate overnight. Before reheating and adding the dumplings, scrape off and discard any solidified fat on the surface.

For the stew:

3 pounds beef chuck roast (do not use pre-cut stew meat)

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

1 tablespoon rendered bacon fat or vegetable oil, plus more as needed

1 large onion or 2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 cups)

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

2 cups pinot noir or other dry, fruity red wine

2 cups low-sodium beef broth

1 small sprig each fresh rosemary, sage and thyme, plus some finely chopped fresh herbs, for garnish

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange

2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard

For the dumplings:

1 cup flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 cup cooked sweet potato puree

1/2 cup sour cream (full-fat)

2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

2 to 4 tablespoons half-and-half

For the stew: Cut the meat into 3-inch chunks and discard any large, hard pieces of fat and gristle. Blot the meat dry and season with the salt and pepper.

Heat the bacon fat in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the meat and cook for 3 minutes per side or until deeply seared and browned, turning the pieces with tongs and transferring them to a bowl as they are done. Add more bacon fat to the pan between batches, as needed.

Add the onion and stir to coat in the drippings. Add the water and stir to loosen the browned glaze from the bottom and sides of the pan. Cook for 8 minutes or until tender, stirring often.

Whisk together the flour, paprika, cinnamon, allspice and cayenne pepper in a small bowl, then sprinkle the mixture over the onion and stir to coat. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, then pour in the wine and broth and drop in the herb sprigs. Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pot. Cover and cook, reducing the heat to medium or medium-low so the mixture is barely bubbling, for 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. Discard the herb sprigs.

Stir in the orange juice, brown sugar and mustard. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper, as needed. Keep stew warm over low heat.

For the dumplings: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Stir together the sweet potato puree, sour cream and orange zest in a bowl, and then stir that mixture into the flour mixture. Stir in enough of the half-and-half to form a soft, sticky dough that holds its shape on a spoon.

Adjust the heat as needed to bring the beef stew to a low boil. Use a 1-ounce scoop or two soup spoons to drop golf-ball-size dumplings evenly over the surface of the stew. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the dumplings are firm, fluffy and somewhat dry on top.

Uncover and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the herbs and orange zest. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.