Generations of home cooks have been inspired by the recipes and writing of Edna Lewis. Among them is Elle Simone, food stylist and test cook for America's Test Kitchen. Managing Producer Sally Swift sat down with Simone to hear about the Miss Edna-inspired America's Test Kitchen recipe for Chicken and Pastry, a hearty soup with a thick broth that contains bits of dumpling-like pastry. Try the recipe at home for comfort food at its best!
Sally Swift: We have been talking about the singular Edna Lewis all hour, and I am wondering if you have eaten many of her recipes? Is that something you grew up with?
Elle Simone: Certainly. My family made lots of Edna Lewis recipes and recipes inspired by Edna Lewis. One of my favorites is chicken and pastry.
SS: So, explain to me what chicken and pastry is - because I hear that and I think of a chicken pot pie.
ES: Chicken and pastry is really a soup. It's a hearty soup with a thick broth that contains these beautiful pastry bits that almost serve as a dumpling. It's amazing.
SS: Tell us about your process.
ES: The first part of our process is making the dough for the pastry component. It's a very simple dough recipe that just calls for flour, baking powder and a little salt and pepper. We combine it with milk and melted butter, and we roll it out on the floured counter. We knead it to make sure there are no streaks in it. Put it in a bowl, cover it with plastic, set it aside.
SS: Baking powder, not baking soda?
ES: That's right, the baking powder helps to keep the dumplings intact so they don't disintegrate into the broth. Also, it keeps them from being chewy, it makes them tender. And at that point, we start to work on our broth.
SS: What are you doing with that broth? It's just a chicken broth, correct?
ES: Is there any such thing as just a chicken broth? [laughs] We start by browning the chicken, which is a great step because when you caramelize that type of fat it really enhances the flavor. When you have a soup or broth that has minimal ingredients, you have to do the special things that draw out the flavor, and so browning the chicken is the very first step. We take the chicken out, then add water, onion, and celery. We let the stock go for about 25 minutes. While that's happening, this is a good time to start working on your pastry dough. You roll it out, and the little je ne sais quoi that we pick up from Edna Lewis is that we are cutting our dough into diamonds.
SS: I love that.
Es: Isn't it elegant?
SS: Yes, such a beautiful, intentional move.
ES: It's very elegant. Edna was a home cook to begin with, and I think like most good home cooks she was very concerned about aesthetic; it was important that it be beautiful. Also, when she was at Cafe Nicholson in the 1950s in Manhattan, she wanted something that would make her dishes stand out amongst the rest. Little steps, like finessing pastries by cutting them into diamond shapes were a perfect way to show who she was and how she cooked.
ES: At this point our broth has been going for about 25 minutes with the chicken in. You can take that pot off, remove the chicken and let it cool. We're going to strain it and take the celery and onions out. I know that that seems very non-traditional for this sort of dish, but we've already extracted all the flavor from it that we need, so I'm just going to get rid of it. Then we add our pastry to the broth and let it cook until it puffs up a little bit. It actually starts to do a very magical thing once we pull the chicken from the bone and add the pastry. The pastry starts to give a starchy gift to the broth; it thickens it a little bit and makes it smooth and delicious. And that's the difference between chicken and pastry, and a chicken noodle soup – that nice body that it adds to the broth.
SS: I have never had this. It sounds like such home food to me. It sounds great.
ES: Doesn't it make you excited about fall? Just knowing you can wear cardigans and eat chicken and pastry?
SS: I love that. Oh, go Edna Lewis!
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