Stuffing the Holiday Fantastic.

Thanksgiving and turkey stuffing are heartland things. They conjure up pastoral memories that may be imaginary, so few of us really have any true memories of living on the farm. Thanksgiving is not typically considered a religious holiday, but saying grace at the table lingers in most of our memories as part of the whole thing. We all lament the decline of “familyness,” and other so called Christian values, all the while doing the best we can to avoid spending much time with relatives. We all dread the proximity fueled arguments about politics and so forth. But church is also one of those things associated with most Holidays.

My wife and I have been attending a nearby church for the last few years. I went a few times as a kid, but didn’t really receive any instruction. We lived on military bases, I may have actually detected the irony and seeming contradictions. My wife is a life long Christian, she even met Billy Graham at a tent revival many years ago. Anyway, we have garnered a circle of Christian friends, church is just about the only place we go where there’s much of a crowd. I’m not the youngest one there, but a lot of them are considerably older than me. We have a few in their 90’s, fascinating to talk to them. Pretty amazing, really.

Anyway, I have done a few small food projects for the church, most of it pro bono. One year, I catered some of the components for Thanksgiving, and they reimbursed me for ingredients. One of the things assigned to me was the Dressing/Stuffing, and everybody wanted me to explain IN DETAIL how I was going to make it, and what was going into it. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to put anything weird in it like oysters and chestnuts. Their tastes are pretty middle of the road, to say the least. No shame in that.

A Lifetime of Imaginary Memories.

I was in a social group of about a dozen when the subject came up. I was explaining the full range of possibilities, mostly things that I WASN’T going to include, but highlighting celery, onion, BREAD, and sort of tarting up my description for their amusement. One of the ladies who’s very active down there commented “Well, I don’t know about anybody ELSE, but what I REALLY like is that old fashioned, plain and simple…” I was waiting for her to say “stuffing like my Mom used to make.” I get that a lot, as you can imagine. Actually, her Mom and Dad are two of the members that are in their 90’s, so it would make sense — she would have been a 12 year old child in about 1954, when mothers will still doing a lot of the cooking.

Anyway, I was a little surprised, and maybe even a little disappointed, when she finished the sentence with “that old fashioned, plain and simple, STOVETOP STUFFING. THAT’S WHAT I REALLY LIKE, WHAT I REALLY REMEMBER FROM MY CHILDHOOD.” *sigh*smh. I did a little research. “Stovetop Stuffing” was introduced by General Foods (since absorbed by Kraft) in 1972, so my friend from church couldn’t have become familiar with the product until she was at least in her 30’s. To me, this doesn’t even make sense. Then, I remind myself that by 1972, Americans had been totally seduced into an addiction to convenience foods, erasing all traces of our memories of home made meals around the table.

Maybe Mom’s stuffing wasn’t really that good, but it’s a lot more likely that the stuffing on the shelf conjured updated childhood memories. We were all mesmerized by the subliminal messages of the fast food industry to purchase their convenient products. I remember my Mom and Dad, who were really not great cooks, seeing those commercials for Stovetop and Shake’n’Bake and saying something to the effect of “What kind of idiot can’t make their own turkey stuffing?” Cooking seems like such a primordial practice to just abandon without prejudice, but that’s pretty much what we did.

What can be Stovetop about Stuffing?

Ruth Siems was the home economist who first created and patented the product. Her patent was based on a certain size of bread crumb that makes the rehydration, or addition of water, work. In an interview with the Evansville Courier in 1991, Siems said the idea for the instant stuffing came from the marketing department, but it was up to the research and development staff to “create the product.”

So, as has become the American custom, it was the marketing department that decided Americans needed Stovetop Stuffing — not Americans themselves. Manufacturers create the product, then, they convince us consumers that we can’t live without it. And the defining standard set was based on the SIZE OF THE CRUMB. Not the flavor, the color, not the nutritional value, but a size and shape that would rehydrate instantly without completely losing its structural integrity. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, eh? It almost reminds me of the way dry dog food is formed. You know, the dogs can’t really distinguish the different colors in the kibble. I suspect that even the shapes are intended more to be pleasing to OUR eyes, than to those of our cherished pets. I could go on, but, well, I won’t. YAY.

The origin of stuffing doesn’t really seem very important, but apparently there may have been some symbolism involved. We were taught, so many years ago, that turkey stuffing was artistically dedicated to represent/resemble what the turkey might consume as part of its regular wild diet. I suppose we could whimsically accept the notion that a wild turkey would consume grain (like in bread), wild onions (ramps), carrots and even wild celery…they must have existed in the wild at some point, no? Herbs, sure, turkeys would peck at them. There’s actually a scene in the Fellini movie “Satyricon,” that addresses this mild fantasy in a rather decadent and Fellini-esque way, where a gigantic roast pig is stuffed with sausages and a variety of other, um, “specialty” meats.

The Benefits of Un-Dressing Sous Vide

There’s no real benefit to making Stuffing/Dressing Sous Vide, other than  preventing people from jamming it inside their Thanksgiving Turkey. I’m going to assume that most of my readers have heard just how dangerous that can be in terms of food safety.

There’s no reason NOT to implement SV to assist in the making of the Stuffing, either. And that’s what we do here. We show you how to do it with SV. With that caveat in place, let’s get started!

  • What the heck, we have time, we’ll make the bread. A basic bread recipe:

Ingredients:

  • Flour, 3 cups plus 1 cup.
  • Yeast, 1 Tablespoon.
  • Sugar, 1 Tablespoon
  • Salt, 1 Tablespoon
  • Vegetable oil, 1 Tablespoon
  • Water, 1.5 cups, @120F

Procedure:

  • In a bowl, a large food processor, or a Kitchenaid Mixer, Combine the first 3 cups of flour with the other dry ingredients.
  • Add the water, and mix until it becomes a tight batter.
  • Add the rest of the flour, mix, and it will become a tight ball.
  • Lay the ball on a non stick sheet pan, and press it flat.
  • The shape isn’t going to matter, it’s all going to get cut up, except that first slice that you cut off and slather with about a stick of butter. It’s great being the cook.

  • Yeast likes it warm, most of us know that, but it likes it dark, too.
  • Yeast is mold, mold is yeast.
  • I put a sheet pan over the dough and let it double on top of my SV tank, set at 150F, to compensate for the inefficiency of the heat transfer.
  • You’re really looking for about 110F.

Getting Stalked by Celery

  • Lots and lots of celery, to be SV processed @183Fx1 hour, or so.

  • I used the Lipavi L10, Lipavi C10 vessel and racks, easily modified to accommodate the SV cranberries too.

  • Doubled in bulk, bake 350Fx40 minutes.
  • Let cool.
  • Don’t try to cut it hot.
  • This is what they call a Two Pound Loaf.

One more joke about rolling in dough…

  • Hack it up, I gave it a sort of biscotti look, but it doesn’t matter.
  • Bake again, very low, 200F or thereabouts, we want it completely dried out, so it can absorb all the goodness.
  • A little browning is acceptable, but not necessary.

  • We’re multi-tasking now, so…
  • While we’re waiting for the bread, I gathered up some onions that I had previously processed SV, 183Fx1 hour.
  • It’s not necessary to process them, but I do it because they keep forever in the fridge that way.
  • Great for onion rings.
  • The peel goes into the simmering turkey stock.

  • I didn’t have any SV carrots, but it doesn’t matter, just use a raw one.
  • I didn’t even peel it.
  • Turkeys prefer their carrots with the peel on.
  • I checked.

If turkeys were more adventurous, we could stuff them with last night’s capers.

  • I peel celery. I really do.
  • You don’t have to, but I like to.
  • After SV processing and cooling, you take a small knife and grab at the largest end and pull.
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you get less celery threads in your teeth (the wife hates that), and the peel is good in stock.
  • It actually has a lot of flavor, as does the juice in the bag after processing — again, into the stock.

  • The middle stalks are even easier to peel.

  • The peels can be roasted just like we did the Mirepoix for the Sauce, with some oil to give them color. At some point, you know, we’ve done enough.

  • I try to shoot everything in sequence, even though that can really be difficult and time consuming.
  • When I went through this particular sequence, I saw this picture, and thought “What the heck is THAT?”
  • I really couldn’t remember, or tell by looking either.
  • Obviously nothing to do with dressing.
  • Really, it took me a couple of days.
  • Finally, this morning, as I woke up, I realized.
  • In the middle of all the multitasking, making the stock, making the cranberries, making the dressing, my wife reminded me that I needed to make some cookies for the kind neighbor that kept an eye on me while she was in Seattle for a few days.
  • I was really sick with this thing I get, and he brought the mail, etc. Checked in on me.
  • He helps her in the yard, does all kinds of things for us, and isn’t even interested in SV, they don’t really get it.
  • He loves my cookies though.
  • I make good cookies.

A Turkey in every pan.

  • Saute in 1/4 cup oil the turkey meat that we picked from the carcass in the Sauce Article.
  • It should sizzle, but not pop.

  • You can see it’s getting a little color.

Vegetables? Well, SURE!

  • All that celery, onions, and the carrot, in the food processor, chopped fine, but not blended.

  • I didn’t add it all at once, but, you can.
  • It will steam, and DO NOT STIR while it makes the sound of steaming.
  • Stirring it down will make it become mushy, really it will.
  • After a few minutes, it will start to sizzle.
  • Medium heat, typically.
  • Stir it a little, and it will stop sizzling.
  • Don’t stir it again until it has sizzled for a while.
  • That’s what you want.
  • If you start to hear popping, it’s too hot.
  • Stir and turn it down a little.

  • After a few minutes, it will all start to sink, because we are removing the water.
  • Water=BAD.
  • Sizzle, not simmer, not pop. Sizzle.

  • It’s a love thing.
  • The stock is slowly simmering.
  • The cranberries are in the tank.
  • We’re not going anywhere.
  • Our time is our own.

  • Keep cooking it down, it’s going to take on a pleasant, sort of nutty smell.

  • We started almost overflowing, and see how far it came down?
  • Because of the minimal stir method, the particles are still distinct, they have texture.
  • It’s all about the method, Berber.

Savory to the MAX

  • Add 2 quarts of liquid, and, sure, stock is great in this.
  • I prefer to dedicate the stock to the sauce.
  • The turkey that’s in the stuffing will give it plenty of flavor, and you can add a little Maggi or Knorr too if you like. Not much.
  • I try not to let it get too salty or spicy.
  • It’s kind of a bland thing, providing a little contrast to the powerful gravy, the cranberries.
  • The phrase “flavor profile” is overused, much like the way they describe notes in wine.
  • We were tasting wine in Sonoma county, and the guy at the winery was listing the notes in the wine, in excruciating detail. I said “UM, I don’t really taste vanilla,” he said “Well, you’re not really supposed to taste it. It’s just more of a mental thing.”
  • That being said, the full bore combination of turkey and all the trimmings, the potatoes, the yams, the marshmallows, the cranberries, even the prospect of the pumpkin, really does capture the essence of a complete flavor profile.

  • It appears we have successfully duplicated Ms. Siemens paradigm for crumb size. So Proud.

  • The vegetable stew is poured over the fully dried bread
  • Into a 200F oven, not so much to cook, but more to steep and become as one with itself.

  • Once the mixture has cooled, stage into a sprayed pie pan.
  • Sprinkle with bread crumbs.
  • Dot with butter.
  • Bake @350 for one hour.
  • Garnish with chopped parsley.
  • I bet you wondered when the parsley would show up.

OR…

  • As an alternative to the traditional model, I worked for a few chefs who incorporated milk and eggs into the dressing, to make a sort of savory bread pudding.
  • Actually, my mother also utilized this approach.

custard-6

  • Using half the amount of the stewed vegetables
  • add one quart of milk

custard-7

  • Remove from heat.
  • Sprinkle three cups of the crumbs over the top.

custard-1

  • Add four eggs.

custard-2

  • Mix.

custard-4

  • Scale into sprayed cups.

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  • Bake @350Fx45 minutes.

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  • I like this method.
  • It rocks.
  • Home Stretch!