Thanksgiving: Confessions of a stuffing junkie
It’s almost Thanksgiving, my absolute favorite time of the year. I love every single thing about it. From crafting the menu to making sure I have enough silverware and chargers for the plates for all the guests coming to my home.
While others are frantically muttering to themselves in obscenely crowded supermarket lines, I’m smiling. I doublecheck my shopping list. Did I get enough Kerry Irish butter? How about fresh raspberries for my lovely niece Lynn, and yeast for Brian’s pepperoni-cheese bread?
Thanksgiving is a great holiday because it doesn’t involve gift giving. It’s all about the four F’s — fun, family, friendship, and food.
I happily dive into my Thanksgiving rituals — setting the table, getting out the special serving bowls, sorting through a bag of fresh cranberries to make sure they’re all good, and selecting the beverages. This year there will be champagne, Spanish rioja, a dry riesling, and sparkling spiced cider for those who don’t imbibe. A true labor of love, I even enjoy the 30 minutes I have to spend Wednesday night ironing the dining room tablecloth.
If you’ve seen the movie Babette’s Feast, you know how Babette absolutely reveled in crafting and creating a special dinner for the people she appreciated. That’s me. On Thanksgiving, I’m Babette.
My menu is straightforward New England fare – Roast turkey (soaked overnight in pineapple brine), mashed potatoes laden with Irish butter, sweet potatoes (roasted, NO marshmallows), homemade cranberry applesauce AND a can of Oceanspray — gotta make everyone happy, plus green, orange, and yellow veggies, homemade pies for dessert, and of course gravy and stuffing…. ahh yes, stuffing.
My favorite Thanksgiving dish is Sausage and Apple Stuffing: Soft, moist puffs of bread studded with bulk sausage and tiny bits of tart apple and celery, flecked with fragrant sage. (see recipe below)
But I have something to confess. Some might say I have turned my back on my Massachusetts heritage by committing a cardinal sin when it comes to stuffing. Others might say I have crossed over to the dark side.
Time to come clean. I don’t make stuffing anymore for Thanksgiving.
I make dressing.
That’s right, I make the same sausage concoction I’ve always made, but I don’t cook it inside the cavity of the bird or its little derriere flap. I cook it in the crockpot. So technically, I make dressing and not stuffing.
Dressing, cooked outside the bird, goes against everything I learned while watching my mother make Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid or my mother-in-law after I moved to Connecticut. We’re New Englanders, we stuff our turkeys! We don’t care about the scary warnings people give us about stuffing not cooking to the proper temperature inside the bird! We don’t know one person who ever got sick or succumbed from stuffing poisoning! Stuffing tastes GOOD. It has all the flavor from the bird, something dressing in a pan just can’t get.
Southerners, with their traditional dressing recipes, roll their eyes at us Yankees. They say that not only should we cook “the dressing” outside the bird, but it should only contain fresh cornbread — with NO SUGAR in it, (they always say that — NO SUGAR). They call the white bread that Northerners traditionally use “disgusting” (like they never eat white bread, riiiight).
Lo, these many years I have been perfectly happy carrying on the stubborn Yankee stuffing tradition. But last year, by necessity, I made my first “dressing.”
I bought a humongousoid turkey — 30 freaking pounds, because all the turkeys 30 lbs and over were on sale at the store. Such a bargain, how could I refuse? It was so big I knew it wouldn’t fit into my roasting pan, so I asked the butcher to spatchcock it — that is remove the backbone so it could lay open flat for roasting (aka butterflying).
The only problem cooking a spatchcocked turkey is you can’t stuff it. I asked a fellow home chef what to do. She suggested cooking the stuffing in a crockpot with a roasted turkey wing on top. The wing provides juices just like the inside of the turkey, she said.
So I tried the wing trick, and son of a gun, the “dressing” was delicious! It tasted JUST like stuffing cooked inside the bird. So I’m going to do the same thing this year even though I’m cooking a smaller turkey. An unstuffed bird also has the advantage of cooking in less time so it doesn’t dry out — another plus.
Southerners, kudos! I give you the win on the stuffing/dressing debate.
But cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving? No thanks. Cornbread is still reserved for Cornish game hen night. Heck you can’t expect me to go cold turkey on my stuffing addiction can you?
Scenes from last year’s Thanksgiving:
Sausage and Apple Stuffing, er Dressing
This recipe is for the crockpot (slow cooker), but can also be used for stuffing a turkey.
1 roll Jimmy Dean regular bulk pork sausage
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 to 3 ribs chopped celery
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 14-ounce package Pepperidge Farm herb seasoned stuffing crumbs OR
1 to 2 loaves of day-old white bread (aka stuffing bread), torn into small pieces (Sometimes I like the crumbs, sometimes the bread… pick what you like)
2 teaspoons Bell’s Seasoning (or to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 to 3 cups turkey or chicken stock or more if needed to make moist stuffing
2 turkey wings
1. Roast the turkey wings for about 20-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven, until they start getting brown, remove from oven, set aside.
2. Pour stuffing crumbs (or torn bread) into a large bowl.
3. Break sausage meat up into a large skillet/saucepan. Cook over medium heat until evenly brown. Pour sausage AND drippings into the crumbs and stir.
4. Melt the butter in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and apple, and cook and stir until the celery is tender (about 5 minutes). Stir that mixture into the bread and sausage.
5. Add one to two cups of broth, stir, add the Bell’s seasoning, a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Taste. How is the flavor? Adjust if it needs more.
6. Stir in the beaten eggs, (but first make sure the bread mixture is not hot or the eggs will scramble). Add more chicken broth (exact amount will vary, it may be one more cup, two more cups, or more). The stuffing should be moist, but not mushy.
7. Lightly butter bottom and sides of the interior of the crockpot. Lightly scoop (DO NOT PACK) the stuffing into the crockpot. Top with the turkey wings (break them apart if they are big, or just use one wing), cover and cook on high about 3 hours, stirring on occasion (Time varies according to your crockpot). The cook eats the turkey wing. Just for taste testing purposes of course.
Note: Ingredient amounts are approximate. I do not measure. I make approximately double the recipe for the Thanksgiving crowd.