AUGUST 31, 2018

The Humble Art of the Dumpling

“For a creamy or thick soup, ask yourself if the texture is right.  You are evaluating the soup as you would any other dish or preparation. Does it have balance of textures? Soups are soft, but we love crunchy (that’s why we have soup crackers). Perhaps your soup would be delicious garnished with some croutons or fried tortilla.” from Ruhlman’s Twenty

In his section on soup, Michael Ruhlman gives us a series of straightforward advice on how to cook good and simple soup.  He reduces all of the potentially technical intricacies by suggesting that “The most important skill in making delicious soups of any kind is learning how to evaluate a soup.  Think about it. Taste it, and think some more…”

Later down the line, he asks whether a soup might use a bit of acidity? Take a spoonful of whatever type of soup and add either a drop of lemon juice or vinegar.  If that spoonful tastes better and brighter, then add a dash of the acid to the rest of the pot.  If the soup is bright and tasty, but lacks any real substance, consider beans, pasta, or meats certainly will always do.  

Soup, in this way, once its base it set (water, stock), truly comes down to either what the recipe demands or what the cook sees fit.

After cooking a great recipe for chicken and dumpling soup for years now, I would like to add my assessment that is not included in Ruhlman’s Twenty: consider the dumpling.  One of the great beauties of a dumpling is that no matter how plain the dumpling is made (generally a milk, flour, and baking powder mixture), it will always soak up the soup or stew that it simmers on.  In this way, it is like the dipping biscuit that has already been dipped for you.  

For the recipe that I commonly make, for example, the dumpling is added after all of the stock, vegetable and chicken components have already boiled and reduced to a simmer, then the mix above is dolloped onto the surface of the soup and, because of its consistency and make-up, it suspends on the top layer and begins to take its shape as it cooks.  

In addition, my standard dumpling recipe calls for chopped dill, which adds a very complimentary, fresh addition to the soft biscuit.  Based on the type of soup that is being cooked, one could easily substitute dill for virtually any other full bodied herb.  Tarragon, parsley, basil, rosemary all come to mind and would be quite hard to go wrong.  

The dumpling takes about another 20 minutes to fully cook – so some additional cooking time is about the only downside to considering the dumpling for any given soup – but because the dumpling consists of mostly milk and flour, eating it in a rawer state isn’t in any way harmful.

The humble art of the dumpling is a throwback to slow cooked comfort food.  It is one more stage in the progression of the soup maker: consider your ingredients on hand; know you will have to have a water / stock base; consider the vegetables you have on hand; think about how much more substance you want in your particular soup…would a bean, pasta, or meat do?; season to avoid a diluted flatness; check if you can brighten the base with acid; and add to this list the unlimited possibility of whether a simple dumpling could be added?  If you have 20 minutes, the answer could be yes every time.