Working Girl

On Saturday at the Ferry Plaza I stopped at Marin Sun to pick up some of their free-range eggs and discovered that during the week there had been a performance review followed by executions of the underperformers, whose bodies were dressed, sealed in clear plastic, and displayed for sale to bring in a few extra dollars as well as to “encourage the others.”

“Dressed,” in the sense of plucked and drawn, is way up there on my list of favorite euphemisms. Actually, “drawn” is up there itself.

We have read all our lives that for maximum flavor, you want an old hen, but you don’t see too many opportunities to buy them, so I snapped one up.

I chopped her up and threw her into a pot with some aromatic vegetables, and simmered away until she was tender, which took a full three hours! These are tough working girls, and the flavor is amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything quite so chickeny as this stock. Clearly, nothing would do but to fish the chicken out, shred it, return it to the pot, and float some dumplings on top.

I let Aunt Sara get senile before I had the wit to try to extract from her the recipe for her glorious, cloud-fluffy dumplings. Aunt Sara was by far the best cook on either side of the family, but by the time I got around to asking her, she responded, “Oh, now I just cut flour tortillas in strips and use them. You can’t tell the difference.”

Well, I can tell the difference. I knew it was insane, but I tried it. Actually, they weren’t bad, but they were definitely not Aunt Sara’s famed dumplings. Tonight I used a recipe that I’ve had for years and had never got up the nerve to try.

Unfortunately, they were so wonderfully light and fluffy that they disintegrated, but they served very well to thicken the stock with the torn-up chicken and remaining tattered vegetable bits into a thick, delicious stew. But not, alas, chicken and dumplings. I’ve found a couple of promising recipes in old East Texas church cookbooks, and if I can get one of them to work, I’ll put it in the Recipes section.

And when I say “get it to work” I mean get it to work several times in a row successfully. I recently tried a biscuit recipe out of Lewis & Peacock’s The Curse of Southern Cooking and was just entirely smug with my great success. Then I made them again for friends, and they were a near-total failure. Some of these damn things are, I swear, dependent on the phase of the moon. Ummm….I don’t want to go in the kitchen and check, but it may be “Gift” rather than “Curse.”

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