Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Let's Talk Stuffing

For the first 20 or so years of my cooking career, I alternated between the stuffing that my Mother always made and the stuffing my husband grew up with. They are both very non-traditional stuffings, far from the common bread stuffing variations, and both delicious. My Mom's stuffing is Italian themed, with ricotta, scrambled eggs, Romano and muenster cheeses. My Mother-in-law's stuffing is composed of rice, hard boiled eggs, ground beef and Romano cheese. But my husband felt that I ought to have my own, signature stuffing, so I found this recipe. While it is bread based, it starts with corn bread instead of a yeast bread, and deliciously substitutes fennel (anise) for the usual celery. The addition of sausage enriches the favors. 

To make things easier on myself, I usually make the stuffing in stages. In one evening, I'll sauté the sausage, dice all the fennel and onion and sauté them with all the herbs and spices. I usually do this a week or more before Thanksgiving and freeze it. Then, on another day, I'll make the corn bread, dice or crumble it and freeze it in zipper top bags. Then the morning of Thanksgiving, all I have to do is combine everything, drizzle with some canned turkey broth and bake. In the last couple of years I have been cooking all the stuffing in a casserole instead of the bird. It's easier to serve when the turkey is done, the turkey cooks faster and I don't have to overcook the bird to get the stuffing to a safe temperature.

Sausage Fennel Stuffing 
Serves: makes 12 to 15 cups 
Oven Temperature: 350° 

1-1⁄2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage, casing removed 
1 ⁄2 stick butter 
2 large onions, chopped 
1-1⁄2 lbs.fennel bulbs, chopped 
2 tsp. fennel seeds, chopped fine 
1⁄8 tsp.salt 
1 tsp.ground thyme 
1 tsp.tarragon, crumbled 
2-1⁄4 lbs. corn bread cubes (see note) 
turkey or chicken broth, optional 

In large skillet over high heat, cook and break up sausage until cooked through. 
Transfer sausage to strainer, drain fat from skillet and wipe it out with a paper towel. Heat butter in same skillet and sauté onions , fennel bulbs, fennel seeds and salt over high heat until soft (about 10 minutes).Toss mixture with thyme, tarragon, cooked sausage and corn bread cubes to combine well. Makes about 12 to 15 cups of stuffing, enough for a 20 lb.turkey, plus some extra to bake on the side. 

Notes & Pointers: 
I use my home made Buttermilk Corn Bread (the recipe is below) for this because it is an extra moist bread. If you use commercial corn bread cubes which are dehydrated, you might want to add some extra canned turkey or chicken broth to moisten it before stuffing the bird (stuffing should look evenly moist, but not soggy). Put any extra stuffing into a greased oven safe pan, drizzle with a bit of canned turkey or chicken stock (to compensate for the lack of moisture from the turkey) and bake alongside the turkey for about 20 to 30 minutes. Bake it covered if you want it to be moist or uncovered if you like it browned on top. For a vegetarian version, simply substitute sausage style soy.

Buttermilk Corn Bread 
Serves: makes 13”x 9” loaf or 12 Texas size muffins 
Oven Temperature: 350° 

2 cups all purpose flour 
1  tsp.baking soda 
3 tsp.baking powder 
4 Tbs.sugar 
2 tsp.salt 
1-1/2 cups cornmeal 
3 cups buttermilk 
4 Tbs.butter, melted 
4 eggs 

Combine flour,  baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt and cornmeal in a mixer bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together the buttermilk, butter, and eggs until well blended. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix quickly with the flat beater or a wooden spoon just until ingredients are combined. Pour into a well greased 13”x 9” x 2" pan or 12 Texas size muffin cups. Bake at 350°for about 15 to 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Notes & Pointers: 
This is an extremely moist, delicious corn bread. Variation: use half sour cream and half milk instead of the buttermilk and leave out the butter. If frozen, it becomes crumbly, which is not a problem when using it in the stuffing (as it's going to be cubed or crumbled anyway).

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