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The Centerpiece of Thanksgiving

November 24, 2009

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.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 24, 2009 2:00 pm

    I’ll stick with bread and chopped giblets (plus onion, eggs, sage, etc.) as I have for over 60 years. And in spite of warnings, I will put as much of it as I can inside the bird, as I have for the 40 or so years I’ve been cooking. No food poisoning ever.

  2. November 24, 2009 4:57 pm

    I will try this fancy stuffing, assuming I can get my cheap mitts on the recipe without buying the book, but in turn Mr. Fussy you really owe yourself the experience of making a classic bread stuffing:

    Saute a bunch of chopped onions in butter in a large stockpot. Maybe 3/8 lb butter if you are stuffing a great big turkey. You don’t want them wilted, just to lose their crispness a bit. Add in a bunch of chopped celery at the end. We’re talking maybe 2 cups onion, 1 1/2 c celery. Take stale bread you have been saving for several days for this purpose and tear it up into the pot till you have maybe six quarts total in volume.

    Now comes the artful part. Add in chopped dry thyme and sage by the fingersful till it starts to “taste like stuffing”. you’ll probably end up with a tablespoon of each. Salt carefully because the bread already has salt in it. Now mix in warm chicken or turkey stock till it is not quite as moist as you want it. Add a bit of ground pepper. You now have stuffing that is ready for the bird. Stuff the bird then add a bit more liquid to the extra that won’t fit and cook next to the bird for the last hour of oven time till it gets nice and crispy on the top.

    This is good on Thanksgiving day, even better the following day when served as leftovers, warmed with gravy, alongside a sandwich with turkey breast, Durkee’s dressing and cranberry sauce..

  3. nancy c permalink
    November 25, 2009 3:15 pm

    auntie n wishes you could be her too
    save me some of your stuffing as i am making the plain ole
    stuff this year
    thanks for the mention

  4. November 16, 2012 5:56 pm

    Note: The recipe I link to swears by Pepperidge Farm’s herb stuffing crumbs. I do not. Why? Read the ingredients. Instead, I make my own stuffing crumbs by getting good dense bread, cubing it, and drying it out in a low low oven.

  5. albanylandlord permalink
    November 26, 2013 11:55 pm

    Repeating my comment from another post so stuffing recipe hunters will see it:

    OK, After reading those rave reviews I had to make the stuffing and bring it to the shindig. It was really good. It was what everyone was talking about at the table (although there was a low bar at this dinner). I was so excited about it after reading all the great things that I think I expected some sort of ethereal concoction that would have me ready for the second coming, and it didn’t quite reach that level. Probably the second best stuffing after my grandfathers’ cheese stuffing. I found it pretty easy to make. I would definitely make it again and probably will do so each year.
    A few notes for future stuffing cooks: I couldn’t find jarred chestnuts, I used the ones in foil bags. Not sure if these are better or worse… There was a note at the end about the author usually making a half batch – it would be helpful to notice this before buying all the ingredients and cooking to that point in the recipe as the recipe fills two 9×13 pans. I baked it uncovered which was the right move as it crisped the top somewhat.

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