Like other good cooks following family recipes, the Watsons have been known to improvise. Larger chicken breast halves will yield a meatier pie; use more buttermilk if you like a pie filling that's creamy (it will thicken the broth as it cooks) and less buttermilk if you prefer a filling that's soupy.
Make Ahead: The pie can be baked, cooled, covered and refrigerated a day in advance.
- For the chicken and pie
- 6 large (5 to 5 1/2 pounds) skin-on, bone-in chicken breast halves (see headnote)
- 1 large chicken bouillon cube, preferably Knorr
- 4 cups hot water
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup regular or low-fat buttermilk, or more as needed (see headnote)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 unbaked unroll-and-fill pie crusts, preferably Pillsbury brand, at room temperature
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten with a tablespoon of water, for an egg wash (optional)
- For the dumplings
- 2 cups flour, plus more for the work surface and as needed
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable shortening or olive oil
- 1 cup regular or low-fat buttermilk
For the chicken and pie: Arrange the chicken in a large stockpot, skin side down; the pieces should be closely packed.
Dissolve the bouillon cube in the hot water; pour over the chicken to barely cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The chicken should be cooked through and pull away from the bone easily. Transfer the chicken to a platter; let cool. Remove any pieces of chicken skin from the broth and discard them.
Meanwhile, prepare the dumplings: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.
If using the shortening, use two forks or your fingers to cut it into the flour mixture. If using oil, combine it with the buttermilk, then add to the flour mixture in increments, stirring to form a smooth dough. If it is sticky, add flour as needed.
Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch or less, then use a juice glass or 2 1/2-to-3-inch biscuit cutter to cut out rounds (dumplings; at least 16). The dough can be rerolled, and you may have some left over.
Add the buttermilk (to taste) and butter to the broth. Season with pepper to taste. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for a few minutes, stirring; the mixture should thicken.
Add half of the dumplings and cook for a few minutes, until they puff slightly and rise to the surface. Add the remaining dumplings and repeat the cooking process (with the first batch of dumplings still in the pot). Turn off the heat.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have a 9-by-13-inch baking dish at hand.
Tear the cooled chicken into shreds (discarding skin and bones); the yield should be about 10 cups. Spread it evenly in the baking dish, then pour or spoon the thickened broth and dumplings evenly over the chicken. Add salt and pepper as needed.
Roll out 1 of the pie crust doughs and cut into 1-inch-wide strips. Arrange them side by side across the top of the casserole, crimping the edges. Repeat with as much of the second pie crust dough as needed; you will have dough left over. Brush lightly with egg, if desired. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
Let the casserole sit for a few minutes before serving. Or cool to room temperature, then cover loosely with aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
From Laura Stassi Jeffrey.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.