On the kind of crisp October day that makes you long for good friends and good food, pandemic be damned, I found myself in a sunny kitchen in Marion, Alabama, learning how to make chicken & dumplings from Chef Scott Peacock. My friend and fellow writer Helen Lawson was there, too, and through the masks and the social distancing that covid and compassion require, we listened, we learned and we ate, well.
This was my second trip to Chef Scott’s kitchen at Reverie. The first was the Biscuit Experience in March 2019, where I learned step-by-step how to make true crispy buttermilk biscuits from the recipe he has spent a 30+ year career perfecting. Check out my story and the buttery goodness here.
I’ve followed Scott’s career since the 1980s, when he was the chef at the Georgia Governor’s Mansion and a steady presence in the Atlanta newspapers. After the Governor’s Mansion gig ended, Scott opened restaurants, eventually partnering with his friend, the legendary, late chef Edna Lewis in Decatur’s Watershed restaurant. I never ate at Watershed, I am so sad to say, but I treasure the book that the pair wrote: “The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks” (Knopf). First published in 2003, it has never been out of print, and I, for one, do not want to live in a world where this masterpiece is inaccessible.
If you ever want to know what to do with summer fresh raspberries, other than eating them out of hand or on top of granola, see his recipe for Sugared Raspberries. When you have fresh field peas and want to prepare them like all Southern grandmas know how, turn to this book. And when you’re blessed with an abundance of greens, you need to read “An Assembly of Southern Greens Cooked in Pork Stock” for a greens cookery master class.
An aside: I’m never sure about the notions folks bring to the idea of Southern cooking. My experience is that it’s a spectrum and if you grew up on it, the cuisine depends a lot on who did the cooking. Sometimes, Southern cooking is shortcut cuisine that relies on boxes and cans. There’s also the kind of Southern cooking that’s heavy on porkular products and sugar in places where (to my palate) sweet doesn’t belong, like green beans and corn bread. And then there’s a refined version that embraces local produce like field peas and artisan products like country ham. The recipes in “The Gift of Southern Cuisine” are the latter; they are not hillbilly food. The recipes are seasonal, simple and elegant preparations succinctly written.
So, good writing and good food brought me to Reverie. Here’s a little bit more from our day in the kitchen.
“Cooking is a meditation.”
~ Chef Scott Peacock
The Journey to Chicken & Dumplings
The matter at hand, of course, on the October day in 2020, was to make chicken & dumplings from Scott’s grandmother’s recipe. When a Southerner shares a recipe, you get a story, too. And for Scott, that starts with the story of his dream of leaving the South to travel Europe and to cook the food of Italy.
“I was running from cast iron skillets,” he says. He didn’t want to be the “stereotypical Southern chef.” And along the way, “I discovered that the real journey is becoming who you are.”
Life kept him in the South, but the Italian sensibility regarding ingredients ~ fresh and unfettered, when applied to the native produce, meats and fish in the South, became the hallmark of the partnership with his friend who he still calls “Miss Lewis.”
(By way of biography, if you’re not familiar, Edna Lewis was famous when they met. She was an accomplished chef at Gage & Tollner in New York City and her cookbooks were best sellers.)
Edna Lewis grew up as the granddaughter of emancipated slaves in Freetown, Virginia, and worked with celebrated editor Judith Jones (Julia Child’s editor) to write her most famous book, “The Taste of Country Cooking,” published by Knopf in 1976.
As Scott taught how to make the dumplings, he shared the stories of the women who taught him to cook, and especially Granny Peacock, whose recipe he cooked. She had a saying, “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken,” that he takes to mean don’t ever compromise.
I wish I had a Granny Peacock.
This sometimes happens to me when I’m cooking with friends: I start out talking about other people and I end up talking about my mom and then I realize I’m really talking about myself. And I had one of those moments in the kitchen at Reverie. These are the connections we make over stovetops and around tables, pandemic and otherwise.
And just like that, after the excitement and chatter and therapy and two bowls of chicken and dumplings, it was time to pack up and drive home.
Here’s Scott’s recipe for Chicken & Dumplings. It’s absolutely delicious and worth making for your loved ones.
How to Make Chicken & Dumplings
Scott Peacock’s Chicken & Dumplings recipe
3 tbsp cold water
2 tablespoons peanut oil (I used canola)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
Chicken & Broth
1 4- lb. chicken (broiler-fryer)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
2 stalks celery
1 onion, peeled and sliced in half
3 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
Ground black pepper
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, water, oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in flour. Mix until blended and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.
1. Season chicken with the 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside. In 6-quart Dutch oven, combine chicken stock, water, celery, onion and pinch of kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Add chicken pieces, placing leg quarters and backbone first. Place breast, skin side down, on top. Reduce heat to just below simmer. Cover, leaving half-inch opening.
2. Cook 30 to 45 minutes or until breasts are done; remove. Continue cooking leg quarters 30 to 40 minutes until tender; remove chicken and vegetables. Set broth in pot aside. Discard vegetables. Set chicken aside. Cool. Remove skin. Pull meat from bones, tearing into large pieces. Set aside. Discard bones.
3. For dumplings, turn dough onto well-floured surface. As you roll dough, you will find that it may need to rest. When it resists stretching, give it a few minutes to relax. Roll very thin, about 1/16th inch. With a pizza cutter or a knife or a bench scrape, cut dough into 1 1/2-inch by 2 1/2 inch pieces. Lay the dumplings on a parchment lined cookie sheet to dry. Return broth to boiling. Season well with additional kosher salt.
4. Add dumplings to broth, occasionally shaking pot. Do not stir. Cook 3 to 5 minutes. Add reserved chicken. Reduce to simmer. Add butter, cream and a few grindings of black pepper. Gently place hard cooked egg slices on top of other ingredients. Cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cover. Let stand 10 minutes. Serves 8.