by Lynn Kerrigan
I don't know when I first noticed that my mother was a fractured cook. I certainly never gave the issue a second thought when I was growing. Neither do I have fond memories of pulling freshly baked cookies from the oven with an apron-clad Mom hovering nearby or her teaching me anything other than how to open a can. Red and white labeled soup cans lined our pantry to provide a profusion of one-meal dishes that Mom liked to think up. My culinary training consisted of "Mix soup with leftovers and spices. Heat. Serve."
When my sisters and I left home to build lives and families of our own, traditional holiday meals held at Mom's were always eagerly anticipated but also dreaded because of the formidable stuffing. My mother instinctively knows that preparing meals is a highly personal and creative matter.
An adventurous, food-knowledgeable spirit with this instinct, easily whips up what all of us love—"delicious food."
But, an adventurous spirit without culinary acumen easily harvests disasters.
My mother, being a member of the latter group, fed us some pretty bizarre concoctions. Her "secret recipe" stuffing falls into this category. She'd treat her hapless guests to a mixture of.... well, just about anything and everything she could get her hands on. Like chopped olives, turkey gizzards, pickles, green peppers, red peppers, mushrooms, sausage, all manner of spices and other unidentifiable tidbits.
Each Thanksgiving, my family gathered round the dining table and eyed Mom's gloppy mess with mixed feelings. We'd indulge by taking a spoonful or two and make the appropriate "umm good" noises, even though we would have liked to surreptitiously remove the inedible mass from our mouths and chuck it across the room.
In recent years, we've solved the stuffing quandary by hosting "chip in" holiday meals, making certain that Mother never gets the job of making the stuffing. It's worked out well and we get a chance to try new recipes.
Two years ago, I was assigned the stuffing job. Since dinner was being held at Mom's, a two hour drive away, I decided to start it ahead of time in the crock pot. This was a bad culinary move because when I arrived, my perfectly moist, delicately yet savory seasoned masterpiece had become a paste-textured, gloppy mess—reminiscent of Mom's.
Since then, I've learned to make a good stuffing, combining the best of what I've learned from the women in my life. My former mother-in-law, an excellent Lithuanian cook, used saltines, milk and bacon to make her stuffing. My mother was big on sausage (as well as everything else). My sister prefers an American walnut-apple, corn bread variety.
Most stuffing recipes I've sampled, even in fine restaurants, are not substantial enough to stand on their own. Stuffing should be more than a side dish that enhances the turkey.
One of the secrets of outstanding stuffing is using quality bread. If the base of your stuffing is bland, white bread, the result is predictably ho-hum stuffing. You can wake up the flavor of any stuffing recipe by substituting crusty bakery bread—preferably European-style—for the cellophane wrapped, spongy textured loaf on your grocer's shelf. (Most pre-made seasoned, stuffing mixes also use cheap white bread.)
This recipe produces a savory, crunchy textured stand-alone dish to complement the turkey and mashed potatoes.
Makes enough to stuff a large (approximately 20-pounds) turkey with some leftover.
2 loaves dense, crusty, bakery bread of your choice
1 pound mild or sage country or turkey sausage
4-1/2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery (including leaves)
4 ounces (1 packet) saltine crackers
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/3-cup chopped fresh parsley
2 medium sized, Golden Delicious apples, chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
2 cups chicken or turkey broth (see Note)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
Salt and black pepper, to taste
The day before making the stuffing, cut loaves of crusty bread into cubes. Spread on cookie sheet to dry. On Turkey Day, cook sausage in large skillet until browned. Remove with slotted spoon, crumble and drain on paper towels. Add butter to skillet drippings and cook onion and celery until semi-tender. Combine bread cubes, crushed saltine crackers, sausage, onion, celery, pan drippings, sage, marjoram, parsley, chopped apple and walnuts in large bowl; blend well. Stir in chicken or turkey broth and milk to moisten. Blend in beaten egg. Season with salt and pepper. Stuff turkey and roast according to standard roasting directions. Or, place mixture in a greased baking dish, dot with butter, cover, and bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Note: You may use more or less liquid for moistness depending on your stuffing preference. Some prefer a slightly dry, crumbly stuffing and others like a stick-to-your ribs variety. Some moistness will be lost during cooking.
Stuffing a Turkey (or Not)
Stuffing Tips and Free-Form Techniques, including:
Aloha Bread & Macademia Stuffing
French Apple-Walnut-Rosemary Stuffing
Cornbread-Water Chestnut Dressing
Italian Sausage, Mushroom and Sage Stuffing
Pan-Asian Rice Dressing
More Thanksgiving Recipes
Copyright © 1998-2001, Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.
This page created between 1996 and 2001, and modified February 2007
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