I like to cook. My wife likes to bake. She and I have often discussed, that if we were ever to run away and start over somewhere, we would open a diner. Jen would make breads, pies, cookies, and cakes – and she would also run the front of the house (sorry dear – you are much nicer than me). I would be in the kitchen. We would focus on well-executed comfort foods. Everything would be made from scratch. We would be a destination diner. That Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives guy would come to see us with his film crew. I am certain of this.
At this diner, you would get the best homemade mac-and-cheese, roast beef sandwich, or bowl of clam chowder that you ever had, or at least the best that you could recall from recent memory. And then you could top it off with a damn tasty slice of pie and cup of coffee, or maybe a nice latte. It would basically be Thanksgiving every day, the place you just went when you wanted something simple and yummy. Maybe that’s what we should call the place – Thanksgiving. Pure genius!
Fun fantasies aside, there are certain things I love to make. My take on Hungarian Goulash is documented, and now it’s time for Thanksgiving bread stuffing. I thought maybe I should write it down in case my boys ever decided they like to cook too.
The key to this recipe is: Take your time. Understand that good things can’t be rushed. This is not a fancy recipe, but one that is memorable.
Start with a homemade broth:
- Take a heavy pot and put it on high heat. Add some oil and 4-5 turkey necks, or if you can’t find them, use 3-4 turkey thighs. Chicken substitutes well if you can’t find turkey parts. Brown them up nicely. Leave the skin on – you can skim the fat later if you want.
- Add 3-4 coarsely chopped onions, 3-4 stalks of celery (including the leaves), and carrots. Brown all of these things too. All of this browning will take a while, so be patient.
- Add water – I use a big stock pot and add 20 cups of water, but you could do less. Throw in 2-3 bay leaves. Turn the heat to medium-high. Go find something else to do.
- Check the pot from time to time. When the volume of liquid is reduced by about one-third, and it starts to look like chicken soup from a can, you’re done. This might take 3-4 hours, depending on how high your heat is.
- Strain out the chunks with a colander. Set the filtered broth aside and let it cool. Discard the vegetables. Keep the pieces of turkey and let them cool too.
Now for the stuffing:
- You can buy the bags of stuffing from the grocery store — they are fine — just make sure they are NOT the seasoned kind. Seasoned stuffing is way too salty and also someone else’s idea of yummy, not yours.
- Chop onions, celery, and carrots — finely, but not too finely. Maybe add a clove or two of garlic. You should have a total of about 4 cups of veggies, more for a big batch. Add them to a heavy pot with olive oil and a stick of butter (two for a big batch).
- Cook the veggies until soft, then remove from heat.
- Take a big bowl or roasting pan and add your bread.
- Add the softened vegetables, melted butter, and olive oil. Scrape the pot clean.
- If you have fresh herbs, use them. They give a nice pop of flavor. Sage, thyme, rosemary, and parsley. Chop them finely and add them to the mix. How many total herbs? Somewhere between a half-cup to full-cup, depending on your taste buds. If you don’t have fresh herbs, it is no big whoop. Your stuffing will be excellent even with dried — just add to taste, heavy on the sage. I like a lot.
- Add your cooled broth. How much liquid should you add? Gradually add in small amounts until all of your bread is moist. Toss thoroughly and slowly. Take your time. When each piece of bread is soft on the outside and still firm on the inside, then you’ve added enough liquid. Don’t soak it. Add more bread if the mixture seems saturated. Don’t leave any liquid on the bottom.
- You don’t really need to add salt. They butter adds a lot of salt and you can always add more later if desired.
Unless you want to add some optional ingredients, that is pretty much it. You have a fabulous, well-executed, basic stuffing, just like we serve in our diner. You can now add more items if you want, but they are not required to make it delicious. An optional ingredient is the turkey you cooked earlier. Chop up the neck or thigh meat and mix it in. Delicious, but not a requirement. You can also add some cooked ground pork sausage, or Andouille – a very nice option.
I always add capers to mine. I love the tartness and saltiness they add. You can also add pecans, chopped water chestnuts, or a can of cooked oysters, depending on what floats your boat. Add some Crasins if you like a little sweet.
They key now is to set it aside. Let the flavors comingle. I always do my stuffing the day before Thanksgiving, because everyone knows that stuffing is better on the second day. So, in my mind, that second day should actually be Thanksgiving. You following me?
Re-heat for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, in a foil-covered dish. Enjoy your spectacular stuffing, and remember how easy that was, even if it required an investment bit of time and patience.
Have a Very Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you may be.