Grandma knew how to make chicken and dumplings taste scrumptious. But when you try her recipe it never seems quite right. The secret (as many of us are finding out) is not just the recipe but the ingredients. She always started with a pastured stewing hen! That is the magic ingredient to give you flavor, texture and color that you will never get from a hen who lived its life in a cage or even a broiler on pasture.
Flavor—when a chicken uses it muscles and is ‘in shape’ then the meat will provide the broth a complex, savory flavor. A young broiler hasn’t lived long enough to develop the pleasant distinct savoriness we associate with homemade broth.
Texture—weight bearing exercises in addition to a diet adequate in calcium provide the chickens with strong bones. This is evident when you look at the gelatinous properties of the broth. If it doesn’t get real thick when chilled it doesn’t have gelatin.
Color—the more fresh greens a chicken eats the more yellow their fat (and yolks) will be. You can use this as an indication of the storage of their fat soluble vitamins.
What do I do with it?
Place the stewing hen (or two if you like it meaty) in a large kettle (or crockpot). Cover with water. Add in onion, celery, salt, pepper and a bit of thyme (or your family’s favorite seasonings). Cook until the meat is falling off the bone. Typical time is 12 hours for my house but it is flexible. Allow to cool. Separate the meat and bones from the broth. Take the meat off the bones and pull/cut into bite size pieces (I use a kitchen shears).
Now you have meat and broth. You can use them together for chicken and dumplings or separate as broth and chicken pieces (pizza, bbq, quesadillas, tacos, salad, etc…). If you want to save your broth for later use, you could freeze it in ice cube trays. Then when your next recipe calls for bullion cubes, just add hot water to one of your broth cubes!
Whether you want broth when a child is sick or dumplings for the family holiday; you can do it!
We have plenty stewing hens in the freezer. Try one today.