Chicken and Dumplings

By Caitlin Cullen

Caitlin Cullen describes herself as a teacher, not a chef. But she uses cooking as a tool – the accompanying recipe being a perfect example of that. The Detroit native favors rustic, upper-Midwest comfort foods, and that’s where she lands in the kitchen, “if I’m left to my own devices.” In like fashion, even on an 80-degree summer day, she’ll bring chicken and dumplings to a potluck that also features grilled brats on the menu. “I go for the things that are left of center,” Cullen explains. This recipe evolved out of her brief period as a vegan living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The people who nurtured Cullen are as foundational as the chicken stock. “I cook people.” She says simply. “I was raised with an endless array of positive mentors. I was being cooked, pruned and seasoned with those around me. I am part of seasoning people.”

Cooking this meal in particular is a reminder to Cullen of where she’s been and how far she’s come. Back when she was an educator in the Dominican Republic, her mental health and substance abuse issues reached their peak. That “disorienting” time made her not only long for home, but for the foods synonymous with “home.” After she got back, still trying to pull herself out of the darkness, she made chicken and dumplings for a friend, and it “helped her remember a life before drugs and ‘sauce.’” Teaching it to others – “you can use every piece of every ingredient,” making it thrifty as well – is the embodiment of paying it forward. 

If you’re making this dish completely from scratch, Cullen suggests Tower Chicken on South Sixth Street for fresh poultry.


6-8 servings

For the Stew:

1 grocery store rotisserie chicken, or 1 raw whole chicken to roast yourself at home

1 medium onion

3-4 large carrots

4-5 stalks celery

8 ounces mushrooms (one of the smaller packs at the store)

3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary

3-4 sprigs fresh sage

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

3-4 tablespoons cooking oil

4 tablespoons butter

2-3 tablespoons flour

8 cups water

Splash of white wine (not necessary, but it really makes a difference)



A splash of cream (1/4 cup – 1/2 cup), optional


For the Dumplings:

1 1/3 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup whole milk, cream, or half-and-half

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives


Before you start this recipe, please note - do NOT throw any of the scraps of your chopping and cooking away until we say so! You will use all onion skins, veggie ends, herb stems and chicken bodies (if you are making this with meat) to make the stock you’ll use for your stew.


If you are using raw chicken, rinse the bird off with cold water, pat it dry with a kitchen towel or paper towel, and sprinkle salt and pepper all over the skin. Throw the chicken on a sheet tray or in a roasting pan and cook in a 350-degree oven for one hour or so. Everyone’s oven is different, but if the chicken ends up slightly undercooked, don’t panic! You can always throw any undercooked pieces in your stock to simmer and cook through. When the chicken is cooked and slightly cooled, or if you bought a cooked chicken from the store, it’s time to pick it apart.


Grab a large pot and keep it by your side to start collecting supplies for your stock. Anything you take off the bird that is not chicken meat goes into the pot – skin, bones, weird bits you can’t identify, all of it. Put all of the meat from the chicken off to the side for later in the recipe. Next, start chopping your veggies. I love to cut mine super small to practice my skills, but you’re free to chop as you like – the only requirement is that you cut your onions, carrots, mushrooms and celery all roughly the same size so they cook evenly. Any scraps from chopping veggies go into the stock pot – even the stuff that seems inedible, like the papery skins from the onions and the butts of the celery. Next, remove the leaves from your fresh herbs and chop them until fine, putting the stems and any extra sprigs in your stockpot. Put the stockpot on the stove over medium heat, add a big pinch of salt (use three fingers and your thumb), and sauté veggies, skin and bones until fragrant and the veggies start to lightly brown. Add 8 cups of water to the pot, turn up to high heat until boiling, and then reduce to low and simmer for at least one hour.


Put a large, heavy-bottomed pot on the stove over medium heat and add the cooking oil when the pot is hot. Add all your veggies and herbs and another three-finger pinch of salt, stir, and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, and the mushrooms are getting tough and dry. The veggies will start to stick to the bottom of the pot; this is when you will pour a hefty splash of white wine to the pot and use the liquid from the wine to help scrape the bits of stuck food off the bottom of the pan. When the wine is cooked off, turn the pot to low heat, melt in the butter, and then sprinkle the flour over all of the veggies. Cook the flour for two to three minutes, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom so none of it sticks and burns. Finally, strain the chicken stock from your other pot and add to the pot full of veggies. Add the cooked chicken, stir, and simmer the stew for 20 minutes or so, stirring and scraping the bottom every five minutes.


While your stew is simmering, make your dumpling dough. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and minced chives (if you're using them) in a bowl. In another bowl, combine milk and butter. Add the dairy mixture to the flour mixture with a spoon, being careful to only mix everything enough for the ingredients to come together – don’t overmix the dough or it will be tough and a real bummer when it’s dumpling time! When the stew has thickened and you’ve tasted to make sure it has enough salt and pepper, it’s done and ready for dumplings! Drop the dumpling dough on the top of the stew by the spoonful, cover the pot, and simmer for 15-20 minutes when the dumplings are no longer doughy inside. Add a splash of cream to the pot, stir, and serve.

Pro Tip


“I'm not sure I've ever made a soup, stew, pilaf, pile of lentils – basically anything that hits a pot or sauté pan – without deglazing the pan with some sort of booze or acidic liquid. After sauteing all veg, and before adding stock or liquid, throw a good splash of wine, beer, lemon juice or vinegar of choice (cut it with a little water if it’s vinegar or lemon) into the pan and let it simmer off. Not only does it help get the delicious, browned bits off the bottom of the pan and integrated into the dish, but the brightness it will add to any dish is a subtle but strong improvement.”


Caitlin Cullen is an educator, chef, entrepreneur, and activist who uses food to help dismantle wealth and health disparities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 2016 she opened the social enterprise restaurant, the Tandem, where she provided on-the-job culinary and hospitality training for over 150 young, nontraditional workforce candidates in Milwaukee’s central city. In March 2020, Cullen shifted her restaurant’s focus to an emergency hunger response organization, eventually serving over 125,000 meals to Milwaukeeans affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and fundraising over $1 million to support local small food businesses struggling to survive. She is currently the Food Center Director for Kinship Community Food Center, where she continues to use food as a medium to create a more equitable, just, and inclusive Milwaukee for all.

Caitlin Cullen

Kinship Community Food Center

Caitlin Cullen

Kinship Community Food Center

About Kinship Community Food Center