The meat chickens we grew free-range last summer are much different than grocery store chickens. I don't know why, exactly, but I have a few theories.
Firstly, they are stringier, long and lean, and a bit tough. I think this is because free-range birds get vastly more exercise than grocery store birds. They make good crock pot meals, but they are less satisfying for stovetop use.
Secondly, they are yellow. The skin is very yellow, as is the fat. Some of the kids are grossed out by this. I think the chickens are yellower because they are eating a less controlled diet. The yolks of eggs from free range hens are very dark yellow because such hens eat their fuller range of dietary needs, such as bugs and strange plants, seeds, small twigs, leaves, etc. This is alleged to make a healthier egg with more properly balanced essential fatty acids and a richer nutrient content. So with the free ranged meat chickens. They eat a little of everything. I theorize that the fat and skin that appear so strange to those of us who are used to grocery store chickens is really more normal and hopefully richer in nutrients and healthier fats.
But they are strange to eat and take a bit of imagination to serve to kids who might sometimes be a little bit picky.
Today I tried to make Chicken and Dumplings. I can't say I remember ever having eaten Chicken and Dumplings, so I didn't really know what I was doing. But it's always sounded good so I though I'd try it. Because of the number of eaters at our house, our volume ends up being quite large. You will probably want to cut back a bit.
This is what I did.
Roast your Birds
Rinse two whole chickens and pat dry.
Rub with your favorite herb mix. If you want a more flavorful meat, rub the inside the cavity, and separate the skin from the breast and rub seasonings under the skin. I just rubbed the outside surfaces well.
I used salt, coarsely crushed sage leaves, oregano, and a red pepper/lime seasoning salt from the grocery store.
Put chickens in a large greased roaster and sprinkle with a bit of onion, celery, and carrots for flavor.
Cover and bake at 300F for 2-3 hours.
While the chickens are baking, dice enough carrots, celery, and potatoes to feed your family; or prep whatever combination of veggies you like with chicken. I covered the diced veggies with water to keep them fresh while waiting.
Note: Later when I was looking for dumpling recipes, I noticed that most Chicken and Dumpling recipes do not include potatoes. Several call for peas. Since I don't know what's normal, I just made something up.
After the chickens were roasted, pull the meat off the bones and break it into serving sized portions. Return to the roaster with the pan juices.
Note: I put the bones and most of the skin in a crockpot with water for homemade bone broth. I'll let it sit in the crock pot for several days, then strain through cheese cloth and put in freezer if I don't have an immediate use for it.
To the chicken in the roaster, add the vegetables, and broth or reconstituted bouillon, enough to cover vegetables and meat. If you have it, use homemade bone broth. I used 3 cups of turkey frame broth concentrate from the freezer and the soaking water from the veggies.
Note: If you use bouillon cubes or granules, you can stir it directly into the hot pan juices and then use the veggie soaking water in the correct volume. If you don't need the water for your meal, you can water your plants with it so you won't waste any veggie-ness that has leached into the water.
Cover and put back in the oven for another 1 1/2 hours.
Add 2 cups frozen peas for the last 1/2 hour of baking. Turn the oven up to 350 F.
For the dumplings, I kind of used the recipe from Nourished Kitchen.
2 cup brown rice flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup almond meal
1 c tapioca flour
1 1/3 cup whey (or liquid of choice)
4 eggs, beaten
1 cube butter, melted
1 teaspoon sea salt
Stir brown rice flour, sorghum flour, almond meal, and tapioca flour together, then pour whey into the flour and stir together until it resembles coarse crumbs.
Note: If you set it aside, covered, for about eight hours or overnight it will be healthier, with a little probiotic action going, but I didn't think of it soon enough.
Mix liquid ingredients together, then pour into the dough and mix just until dough clings together. Add more rice or sorghum flour if needed. I ended up adding almost another cup of sorghum flour. Roll the dough in your hands to form balls about one-half to three-quarters inch in diameter.
Drop formed dumplings, evenly across the top of the roaster. Cover the roaster and allow the dumplings to cook undisturbed for eight to ten minutes. Cut one in half to test for doneness.
Serve in bowls and enjoy.
A final note: if you want more info on the benefits of cooking with bone broth, see my post on beef bone broth. It has instructions for making broth and several inks to further reading.