I am going to start by reiterating something Scott has already touched on, that this is an amazing book, and that Thomas Keller is a genius. I am not really that interested in cookbooks which basically tell you how to assemble things. While I will once in a while watch cooking shows, and read Rachel Ray's magazine, I don't really want to be told just to add pine nuts to everything and call it gourmet. "Ad hoc at home" is so valuable because it actually teaches you techniques, and explains why these work (which they totally do).
My mom used to make "Chicken a la King". I don't know how, but it was the chicken/peas/carrots/creamy sauce flavor profile served over toast. This to me is the ultimate comfort food, and something I have been on the hunt to reinvent in my own style, made from scratch with all fresh ingredients. I have in the past fallen hard for Cook's Illustrated's chicken pot pie with buttermilk topping, and that is delicious, but once I saw Thomas Keller's chicken and dumplings soup I had to give it a try. I'll also say that the more I make soups at home, the more I realize what canned soups are lacking. In canned soups all the flavors run together. In this recipe you can taste everything separately from the chives to the carrots to the delicious soup base. And yet somehow all the elements combine to become a whole new flavor, comforting, not heavy at all, and bright like the taste of spring.
I am not even going to attempt to describe this too much in detail. I am also not even going to pretend it was quick or easy, but was it the most delicious soup I have ever had? It was definitely way up there.
After 30 minutes you add 4 quarts of chicken stock to the veggies and let that go for 30 more minutes. Throw out the little parchment hat. You also scoop the dumplings off onto a baking sheet to await their joining the soup later.
After that, you drain the soup base and discard those vegetables. Who throws out perfectly fine vegetables you may ask? Well according to our friend Thomas Keller here, the veggies give up their flavor and nutrients to the stock. They are now mushy, not as bright in color, and have lost their antioxidants. So instead, we blanche some celery. He has some really useful pictures on this point. Basically we cook them until they are just tender, and immediately throw them in an ice bath. Look at the bright green, have you ever seen this in vegetables for a soup? I haven't.
Now we stir in some cold roux to the simmering soup base to thicken. We combine all the elements of the dumplings, cooked chicken (we actually didn't have any chicken, so we threw in some peas instead), celery, carrots, and then add some chives, parsely, salt and pepper, and a bit of champagne vinegar.
It makes an enormous amount. We each had two helpings for dinner, and we had about 4 servings leftover to have for lunches. In reflection, the blanching of the vegetables is really key. I have never had vegetables that tasty in a soup before (especially carrots). Also the vegetables not having cooked for hours didn't lose any of their key nutrients. And it just smelled amazing, and with the Dijon and chives in the dumplings they had a bit of a kick to them. This was not your gloopy chicken and dumplings. It had all the benefits of a classic, nostalgic, flavor profile without sacrificing freshness or health. Next up, can't wait to try his chocolate chip cookie recipe. They may end up as the favors at our wedding if they stand up to the test.