Sage Chestnut Sausage Stuffing with Rye and Challah and Thanksgiving Fixin’ Kitsch
I’ve never had a fondness for Thanksgiving food. I spend most Thanksgivings in Florida, where my favorite parts were (besides family, obviously) the sweet shrimp caught right off the Atlantic coast my uncle had picked up the night before and the pumpkin soup my Aunt Sally made long, long ago. My Aunt Michele taught me how to prepare the bird before cooking one year. This was a great lesson, involving water, many paper towels, two lemons, peels reserved and finely diced (this is my suggestion, not hers, but why waste lemon rind when you’ve got turkey skin to stuff it under), as many cloves as you like of peeled and thinly slivered garlic (this is me talking to, I don’t remember her using garlic, but I certainly couldn’t resist) and a LOT of olive oil. Never had a Thanksgiving Turkey I really fell for until I tried Gourmet’s dry brine and (yeah, so what, it’s cheating, but it’s not soooo different from sous-vide) using an oven bag on my very own turkeys that I began to appreciate the Thanksgiving Turkey. But there’s no turkey tutorial going on right here, folks. Be strong, carry on.
Because poorly prepared turkey has such a tendency towards blandness, we prepare the traditional fixin’s as a distraction. In my eyes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes (again?), the cranberry sauces, it’s all kitsch. Or that’s my way of saying it’s all a ritual that I don’t much care for. I’ll take smoked oysters and ham on potato rolls any day over “the fixin’s.” That said, the emergency pumpkin soup my sister and I churned out last Thanksgiving was spectacular. Said emergency was a “friend’s” suggestion of a butternut squash, white wine and cardamom soup was was, especially by the time I was finished with it, inedible. I’m pretty sure he didn’t get that one from a Keller cookbook. But I did not listen to my better instinct on that one either. I think it was a loser from the get-go, but no matter, we cooks under deadline soldier on.
So, fixin’s. This leads me to stuffing. Stuffing, in my opinion, is the “money” fixin’. I never muchcared for it but now it’s my number one absolute Thanksgiving food. I had one with a similar recipe to this, as a child that my best friend’s mom made, but that was ages ago, and all I remember how good it was and figuring it must have been sausage and she didn’t tell me, but oh well. But I’ve done this one up my way. Basically this is an incredibly flavorful sausage, chestnut, sage bread pudding with amazing texture, a bit mushy, a tiny bit crunchy, every bite delicious.
What I suggest is to use a loaf of rye bread or pumpernickel if you don’t like flavor (okay, that much flavor, or, better, that that rye flavor), and another type of bread (I might use an egg bread like challah or brioche or potato bread for a sweet contrast to the aforementioned), both fresh and hand torn and roughly diced, two eggs lightly beaten, a bit of thyme, some chopped fresh sage (but don’t go overkill because sage is really strong), a cup and a half of chestnuts (roughly diced, use canned because you do NOT want to read what Julia Child has to say on preparing chestnuts, it would scare anyone but the naive/masochistic/truly brave) and then a little mirepoix of diced onions -at least one, but personally I’d go for two, maybe one clove of finely diced and smashed garlic, at least a cup diced celery-all cooked in half butter half olive oil (when butter foams add celery and a few minutes later add the onions because onions and garlic because they cook really quickly plus all this is going to bake), a freshish (raw) sausage or two of your choice casing removed and crumbled. I find Italian hot sausage a little distracting in this recipe; I recommend mild Italian sausage, bratwurst, or kielbasa. Something not too spicy or spiced.
Grease a casserole dish and add all the above.
Nota bene: for the vegetarians out there, substitute hand crumbled veggie patties for the sausage and hope she forgets about the chicken stock. Or pour milk in hers. Or just make her a separate dish and tell her you used veggie sausage because most vegetarians haven’t had meat in so long they have no clue how good it is, which is a large part of why they’re still vegetarians. For the rest of us, feel free to sub some of the oil and butter for bacon fat in the mirepoix. (I think we can all agree that a little bacon fat never hurt anyone, excluding those dear people of faiths for whom certain or all meats are forbidden.)
Cover it at least halfway with most of a carton of the best chicken broth or stock you can get your hands on. Season with quite a bit of salt (or not, depending on whether you are dealing with hypertensives or salt Nazis and they’re watching). Better reasons you may want to hold back some on the salt is that your turkey’s brined (right?) and/or your chicken stock is really salty. Add fresh ground black pepper to your taste, and if you wanted to get Penzey’s-fancy then some dill or caraway seed crushed up in the mortar and pestle. And a hit of Herbs d’Provence never hurt anybody. Then you bake it all for some time at 350. At least a good 20-30 minutes but probably longer.
You should no doubt check out a few other recipes to fill in the my blanks I left out. (Haha, a recipe that calls for looking at other recipes. Well, if you’re anything like me, you read a handful or recipes and then you go ahead and do your own thing once you’ve gotten the hang of the ingredients, preparation means, temperatures, and flavors.) This is all just off the top of my head in the dead of the night.
Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving. Love to all.