Just like Mom used to make... via Thomas Keller

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.

So here is the dumplings waiting to be cooked. You combine the flour and water in a small saucepan, and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until the moisture evaporates enough for the flour to gain a nutty aroma for about 5 minutes. You transfer the dough to a mixing bowl where you add salt, pepper, chives, Dijon, and two eggs. Then you take two soup spoons and transfer them in a scooping motion between the spoons a few times until they look like footballs. Then you drop them in a pot of simmering water, where they are cooked 5 minutes after floating to the top. I tried one to make sure they were cooked, and even at this stage they were amazing.

Then you get your leeks, onions, carrots, and celery going in a pot with butter simmering for 30 minutes. For this he wanted a "parchment lid". I have never seen this technique before. You basically give your pot a little hat. It supposedly gets the best of both worlds letting some steam escape while not letting moisture evaporate too quickly. On the right you can see the dumplings cooking, 6 at a time, not crowded together.

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.
Then we put the carrots in a pot with honey, thyme, an unpeeled garlic clove and salt and pepper and cover the whole thing with cold water. We let it simmer only about 4 minutes so that the carrots are still resistant to the teeth, but are just cooked. We spread them out on the counter on some paper towels.

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.


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