When life gives you birds from North Dakota, make knoephla soup.
What, you may ask, is that? Well, it’s a NoDak thing, and it’s literally a bowl of warmth. Knoephla is actually the term for the dumplings in the soup as much as it is the soup itself; you can also eat knoephla without a soup, sautéed with butter and caramelized onions.
The genesis of my decision to make knoephla soup started with a hunting trip to North Dakota with my friend Tyler Webster, who lives there. I’d had Tyler on my podcast to do an episode about Hungarian partridge, and he said I needed to make the journey out there.
So I did, braving the wilds in the Time of Miss ‘Rona, and we had a blast. Literally. We got lots of both partridges and sharp-tailed grouse. I brought a bunch home to play with in the kitchen, and I ended up smoking several sharpies, using my recipe for smoked pheasant.
Well, when you smoke birds, you tend to slightly undercook the legs and wings, rendering them not so edible. But, if you then take that breast-less carcass and use it as the base of a soup stock, it transforms into something more than wonderful.
I’ve done this with smoke duck, and my smoked duck soup with reibele dumplings is something I’ve pretty proud of. My knoephla soup is like a kicked up version of that. It starts with a broth made from two smoked sharpie carcasses, and goes from there to add all the traditional fixins’, like carrots, celery, and of course the dumplings themselves.
Potatoes are also traditional, although I left them out here. If you want to add potatoes, add 2 or 3 Yukon gold or other waxy potatoes, peeled and diced.
Knoephla, pronounced “nip-flah,” are super easy to make. Flour, an egg, milk, a little salt. Make a dough, roll it into a thin log, slice off little dumplings. Boil either in the soup, or separately, which is what I did. I also added a little rye flour to my knoephla because, well, it makes sense for North Dakota.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a smoked bird carcass lying around. Use the carcass from a roast chicken or any other bird, or just some spare poultry meat you happen to have. I will tell you that this soup is better made with a broth from a smoked or roasted bird, though.
Knoephla soup will keep a few days in the fridge, but be sure to reheat it slowly or the cream could break. Also, if you plan on freezing or pressure canning it, leave out the dairy and add it when you are ready to eat.
- 2 carcasses of smoked birds, grouse or pheasant or chicken
- 4 bay leaves
- 3 quarts water
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup rye, spelt, barley or whole wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 egg
- 6 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoons butter or bacon fat
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 cups chopped white or yellow onion
- 1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Break or chop up the carcasses of the chicken, grouse, pheasant or whatever into large pieces. Put in a large pot, add the water and bay leaves, cover and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 2 hours, or until the meat on the legs and wings wants to fall off the bone.
- Remove the carcasses and pick off all the meat. Reserve this. Strain the broth. You'll need at least 1 quart. Set that aside, too.
- Get a large pot of water boiling. Add a healthy pinch of salt.
- Put the flours, salt, spices and baking powder in a bowl and mix well. Add the egg and milk, mix well until you get a shaggy dough. Knead this until it all comes together, then roll it out into a log about the width of your pinkie finger.
- Slice off little dumplings and drop them into the boiling water. It will drop to a simmer. This is what you want, not a rolling boil, so adjust the heat. Let the knoephla cook until they bob on the surface, then 1 minute more. Remove them and lay them out on a baking sheet. Toss with a little oil if you want to prevent them from sticking each other.
- Heat the butter or bacon fat in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and sauté for about 5 minutes; you want everything to soften, but not brown.
- Add the picked meat, as much of the broth as you want -- I use a bit more than a quart -- and let this simmer until all the vegetables are nicely cooked, about 15 minutes. Add the dumplings and cream and cook gently for another 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley, some black pepper and serve.