Why Virginia Willis uses an Instant Pot for her ultra-comforting chicken and dumplings

Arcelia Martin
Southern Kitchen

Why Virginia Willis uses an Instant Pot for her ultra-comforting chicken and dumplings

Sitting on the white metal stool at the kitchen table, I’m occupied with a sketchpad and my pencils, but mostly watching my grandmother’s every move. My grandmother, whom I called Meme, is in the kitchen and I am seldom out of her sight when she’s cooking. The windows are opaque with steam and the meaty aroma of chicken simmering in the pot with onions and celery permeates the room.

Meme scoops out flour from the large Tupperware container with an old coffee cup. She then combines the flour and baking powder in her dented handheld sifter and looks my way to ask if I want to help. I jump to my feet and we pull a chair over to the counter.

To this day, these are some of my favorite memories, being in the kitchen and cooking with her.

Meme’s chicken and dumplings were very traditional. She’d simmer a tough old rooster or stewing hen for hours in her large soup pot with vegetables. She’d then strain the cooking liquid and pull the chicken off the bones only to return it to the liquid with long thin strips of rolled out biscuit dough for dumplings. As the dumplings slowly cooked in the broth the starch from the biscuit dough would thicken the liquid into luxurious, meaty gravy.

Every country, every culture, every cuisine has some form of a noodle or dumpling. No matter what language we speak, what faith we practice, or what color our skin, we all need a little comfort now and then. There are stuffed Chinese soup dumplings and onion-drenched Polish pierogies, and there are dumplings that are more substantial than a slender noodle and exist on their own without being filled or stuffed.

In the South, we love our comfort food and timeless chicken and dumplings is quite possibly the best cold-weather comfort food combination there is — thick, hearty stew married with fluffy, tender dumplings.

The trouble, however, with these iconic recipes is the pressure to achieve taste memories that frankly, may never be able to be recaptured. Chicken and dumplings would seem to be a recipe best executed by a twinkly-eyed grandmother, but I’ve worked up a harried mom-friendly recipe for quick herb chicken and dumplings using a store-bought bird, as well as a more chef-inspired new Southern chicken and dumplings recipe that uses boneless, skinless chicken breasts with sweet potato and spinach. 

With that innovative approach in mind, I set out to make this, one of the most old fashioned of dishes, with one of the newest equipment additions to our kitchen, the Instant Pot. I recently used it to create a recipe for game day chili and I am quickly warming up to how useful a tool it can be.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Instant Pot’s convenience-seeking cousin, the slow cooker. Part of that comes from the fact that most meat recipes need searing in another pot before they are transferred over. The other challenge of using a slow cooker is that most sauces and gravies require something like tapioca pearls or cornstarch in order to thicken. Call me old school, but I’d rather make a stew in a Dutch oven and let it slowly simmer in the oven. However, the multipurpose Instant Pot allows for searing as well as the use of all-purpose flour to thicken the sauce. And it’ll get dinner done far more quickly.

In this recipe I use the techniques of braising and the advantages of the Instant Pot to create a recipe that takes the best traits from grandma’s old timey receipt, slow cooker recipes from a Weeknight Supper Pinterest board, and just enough chef inspiration to keep things interesting.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

– Virginia Willis

Instant Pot Chicken and Herb Dumplings

Many Instant Pot recipes call for cooking the chicken on the bone and then pulling the meat off the bone. Instead, I suggest using boneless, skinless chicken thighs that are less likely to dry out to save both time and an additional step. Do not substitute boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Serves: 4 to 6

Hands-on time: 45 minutes

Total time: About 1 hour and 15 minutes (including time for a natural pressure release)


2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed

Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 onions, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch rounds

2 stalks celery, diced

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

2 cups water

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving

1 cup milk

3 tablespoons unsalted butter



In a medium bowl, season the chicken with salt and pepper.

Turn an Instant Pot on to the sauté setting. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and let heat until shimmering. Add the chicken in two batches, without crowding, and cook until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining oil and chicken.

Add the wine and scrape to loosen the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. (This is known as fond in French cooking and holds tons of flavor.)

Add the onions, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add 1/4 cup of the flour and stir to combine. (The mixture will be thick.) Add the chicken stock and water; stir until well combined. Return the reserved chicken and any accumulated juices to the pot.

Meanwhile, in a second medium bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups flour, baking powder, thyme leaves, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. In a small saucepan or liquid measuring cup in the microwave, heat the milk and butter until the butter is melted; season with black pepper. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.

Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop the dough, about 1 tablespoon at a time, into the chicken mixture in the pot. Cover and cook on high pressure until the dumplings are cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Ladle into warmed bowls and garnish with additional thyme. Serve immediately.