July 23, 2014
When I was in college in Athens, GA, there was absolutely nothing as good, when you were sick or sad or cold, as a cup of the chicken and dumplings for $3.00 at Five Star Day Cafe. One of the drawbacks of having lived there is that when you’re hit with a craving for Athens food, there’s precious little you can do about it if you are anywhere else in the world. (Buttermilk feta dressing for French fries? Forget it.)
I spent several years pining for chicken and dumplings before it hit me that I could probably make them, and that as my roommate Emily #2 is a southerner, there were probably multiple recipes already in our apartment. I tried a few.
But no dumpling recipe approximated the Five Star Day dumplings, which, being the first and only dumplings I had ever had, represented the quintessential ideal of dumplings in my head. And they were doughy and filling…every dumpling from a recipe I tried turned out like some kind of fluffy bread on top of the soup, which to my mind was not the point at all.
I don’t make it back to Athens often, but at least, I thought, I could get a bowl on my next visit.
And then last spring, Five Star Day closed, not even a week before a planned visit to a friend, and on top of all kinds of layers of indignation and grief over the loss of that place, I despaired of ever not eating inferior dumplings.
Then this week I had a frozen chicken carcass I’d been meaning to turn into a summery chicken soup with mushrooms and green beans (I’d actually wanted asparagus, but asparagus is expensive this late in the summer). I was looking for a dumpling recipe I’d used before involving an egg, but couldn’t find it. (The recipe, not the egg.) The Better Homes and Gardens recipe I vaguely remembered as being inferior, but I had everything in it except for like six herbs that I never actually have on hand (my herb of choice is thyme, and I use it gratuitously, in everything).
I was in a fuck measuring mood so I wasn’t leveling off measuring cups or spoons. I was trying to get soup finished and eaten before my call time that night, so I wasn’t being careful at all.
So I was flabbergasted when I took a bite, and…that was the flavor of the Five Star Day dumplings.
To the best of my recollection, this is what I did:
-2/3 cup of flour, plus a little more, because fuck measuring.
-1 teaspoon baking powder, plus a little more, because fuck measuring.
-1/4 cup milk
-2 tablespoons cooking oil
-Large pinch of dried thyme (LARGE. I’m not kidding.)
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-Lots of pepper
I think part of the secret is in sinus-clearing, heart-warming quantities of pepper. The texture is still not the same, but now I have ideas about that, too. Anyone who’s had any further success at recreating Five Star Day-style chicken dumplings, hit me up.
Addendum: Hopefully obviously, but I can promise no equivalent results. It was an accident. I more or less did it again yesterday, but tried again this afternoon and the dumplings practically fell apart in the soup. Could be the heat? (Yes, I’m the kind of person who eats soup when it’s 90 degrees outside.) I made the mistake once of refrigerating dumpling dough and that was the biggest soup disaster I’ve ever caused… Anyway. I wish you luck.