Chicken and Vegetables:
* 1 large roasting chicken (5 to 6 lbs), cut into 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 2 breast pieces, each with skin removed; back, neck, and wings hacked with a cleaver into 1 to 2 inch pieces to make stock
* 1 Tbsp olive oil
* 1 large onion, cut into large chunks
* 2 bay leaves
* 3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 6 boiling onions (smaller than regular onions, larger than pearl onions), peeled and halved
* 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, or chicken fat from the cooked chicken
* 6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme
* 2 Tbsp dry sherry or vermouth (optional)
* 1 Tbsp of heavy cream (optional)
* 3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
* 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
* Ground black or white pepper
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 Tbsp butter, melted
* 3/4 cup milk
* 1/4 cup minced fresh herb leaves such as parsley, chives, and tarragon (optional)
1 Make the stock.
Heat olive oil in a deep (at least 4-inch high) large skillet or 6-qt Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add hacked up chicken pieces – the back, neck, and wings – and onion chunks (not the boiling onions). Sauté until onions soften and chicken pieces lose their raw color, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and continue to cook for about 20 minutes. (While chicken stock pieces are cooking, bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a kettle.) Increase heat to to medium-high, add the 6 cups of hot water to the chicken pieces.
2 Poach the chicken in the stock.
Add skinless chicken parts (legs, thighs, breasts), 2 bay leaves, and 3/4 teaspoon of salt to the stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat; continue to simmer, partially covered, until broth is flavorful and chicken parts are just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove chicken parts from the pan and set aside. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones in 2-inch chunks or strips. Place a strainer over a large bowl and pour the broth through it, straining out the solids from the broth. Discard the solids. Skim and reserve the chicken fat from broth (a fat separator works great for this task) and set aside 5 cups of broth, reserving extra for another use.
3 Make the dumpling batter.
While chicken is cooking, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add (optional) chopped fresh herbs. Add melted butter and milk to the dry ingredients. Gently mix with a spoon until mixture just comes together. (Note: do not overmix! or your dumplings will turn out too dense.) Set aside.
4 Make the stew base, assemble the stew.
Heat reserved chicken fat (or butter) in the pan you had used to make the stock over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour and thyme; cook, whisking constantly, until flour turns golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add sherry or vermouth, then slowly add the reserved 5 cups of chicken stock; simmer until mixture thickens slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the vegetables, simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in chicken and optional cream; return to a strong simmer. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
5 Add the dumplings.
Drop dumpling batter into the simmering stew by heaping teaspoonfuls, over the surface of the stew. Cover and simmer until dumplings are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Once you have covered the pan, do not uncover while the dumplings are cooking! In order for them to be light and fluffy, they must steam, not boil. Uncovering the pan releases the steam. If after 15 minutes they are still not cooked through (use a toothpick or skewer to test) cover pan again, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Gently stir in peas and parsley. Ladle portions of meat, sauce, vegetables, and dumplings into soup plates and serve immediately.
Serves 6 to 8.