The Centerpiece of Thanksgiving
Yesterday I mentioned that the traditional roast turkey was merely the canvas for the Thanksgiving meal, and that today I would reveal my thoughts on the true culinary centerpiece of the event.
Otis wisely reminded me that not all turkeys are created equal. And again, he is correct. When I talk turkey, I am talking about the broad-breasted white that represents something like 99% of turkeys consumed in the world.
However, there is still an argument to be made that even if you have a tastier roast bird on the table, the centerpiece of the meal is the stuffing. After all, the stuffing goes inside the bird. That is, if you like to live dangerously. And it gets imbued with all the tasty drippings of the turkey. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.
A few of you may be shaking your heads in disbelief. Which says to me that you have never had good stuffing.
My first serious girlfriend had an Italian-American mother who was an excellent cook. And I don’t think I had ever had good stuffing before being invited over for Thanksgiving at their house.
All my prior Thanksgivings had been with my Jewish family. And while we might have eaten bacon with eggs or sausage with pancakes, we certainly didn’t cook with pork. Which was probably why my world was shaken to its core by this Italian sausage stuffing.
For the past several years, I have been going to my Aunt N’s house for Thanksgiving. And it is always a pleasure to see that side of the family. My cousin works in gourmet foods and when he is in the country for the holiday brings awesome treats. But my favorite part of the meal has always been Aunt N’s stuffing.
This year we will miss the festivities, but I am determined to make the stuffing at home. All I knew was that it had apricots, sausage, and was from some Nantucket cookbook. But thanks to the power of the internets, that was all I needed.
It turns out that others who have tried this stuffing feel exactly as I do. Marcia, from San Francisco has a blog called The Aperitif. It turns out she posted the recipe for this stuffing and calls it “the focal point of the Thanksgiving meal.”
So perhaps if you are eating an inferior stuffing it is not the centerpiece of the meal. Maybe your meal’s centerpiece is the cranberry sauce (bright, earthy, sweet and savory) or the gravy (since the gravy covers all). But let me assure you, the stuffing from the Nantucket Open House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase will put everything else on your table into its proper place.
Honestly, the stuffing is almost a meal in itself. It has meat, vegetables, fruit and starch. It is enriched with butter, moistened by stock and brandy, and enhanced with chestnuts. The other components of the meal help showcase the stuffing.
The tart cranberries contrast with its sweetness and richness. The meaty turkey compliments its unctuous texture. The salty gravy helps balance some of the sweetness from the apricots. Everything on the table, except for perhaps the bread, is better with this stuffing.
Now I have to attempt to make it for the very first time. It’s both exciting and daunting.
But it will be very nice for me to have a piece of my family’s Thanksgiving meal at our table in Albany. While I cannot be with them, and wish that I were there, at the very least we be sharing some of the same delicious food, and I will be thinking of them dearly.