my dad's cornbread and pecan stuffing, or T minus 9 and counting
Recent phone conversation with my mom.
Me: so what are you and Dad doing for Thanksgiving?
Mom: we might go to Phoenix to see your brother... but, tu sais, I don’t think I weel go. Your brother, he wants to fry the teur-kee. (audible shuddering heard through the phone).
Me: what’s wrong with that? fried turkey is delicious.
Mom: mais, eets so fattening! eets greasy! Quelle horreur! Well no wonder you are fat, you eat that?
Me: yes and it’s not nearly as fattening as you think. If you deep fry something on super high temperature, the oils won’t seep through (enter into scientific monologue)...
Mom: (cuts me off) Non, mais, that ees wrong. Teur-kee is not fried! And where do yoo put the stuffeeng? Eet falls out. You cannot fry the stuffeeng, non?
Me: well, no it can’t be stuffed if you fry it. so just make the stuffing on the side.
Me: mom? Hello? Are you still there?
Mom: Mais... stuffeeng ees not made on the side! Stuffing is in the teur-kee! Mais, nobodee makes it on the side! Non, that’s it, I am not going to Phoenix.
I didn’t bother to tell her that for the last 9 years, I’ve been using my dad’s stuffing recipe and cooking it on the side as a dressing instead of in the bird. She already had a mental vision of me chowing down on a whole fried turkey by myself. I am currently the Golden Child, so I’ll milk that 15 minutes for all it’s worth.
I think what’s great about Thanksgiving as a whole is that everyone in the US celebrates it, no matter what other country they’re from. The Vietnamese ladies at the local nail salon I go to were only too eager to tell me about what they would be eating for Thanksgiving the last time I was there and asked them about it (I had a somewhat difficult time keeping up with their chatter though. Also, I found it interesting to note that their husbands or brothers did most of the cooking, daily or Thanksgiving or otherwise). My mom holds on to her French identity quite fiercely, but tends to abandon it somewhat come Thanksgiving. She once told a French-born cousin of mine that she needed to give the traditional Thanksgiving a chance. My cousin is somewhat anti-American, which makes total sense don’t you think, considering her husband makes a fantastic living making money in the US and they live quite lavishly in some swanky house in Palo Alto.
I find it interesting too that people like my mom, who is always on the up and up when it comes to gourmet foods in general, simply cannot fathom cooking the stuffing on the side rather than in the bird. She falls into that Old Guard of cooks, the ones who’ve been making their turkeys the same way since 1950 or 1960 (in the case of the boy’s grandmother, who’s been making hers the same way since WWII, and this year is no different). The side dishes have changed (my mom hasn’t served cranberry sauce from a can since I was a wee tot), but the turkey remains the same. There is something quite comforting about this. I’m all about traditions and have a few of my own, but I’m also all about trying new things. Although frankly, there isn’t anything new anymore about people cooking their stuffing on the side anymore.
This is my dad’s stuffing recipe, which I’ve adapted somewhat from the original because I’ve added a few ingredients (like apple) and switched out the breakfast sausage for andouille and bacon. I don’t use the turkey neck and the giblets like my dad does, nor do I shove the stuffing in the bird cavities. You can if you want to, though. I have no idea where the original recipe was taken from – I want to say one of those Time Life cookbook series that were popular in the early 1970s. My dad faxed me a copy of it with my mom’s scribblings in the margins, and over the years I’ve added my own scribblings.
You can make your own cornbread here, or use those packaged dried bits. They're going to get rehydrated anyway, so in the interest of time, they're not a bad choice to use. my personal preference is to do something in between. This is when those 80 cent packages of Jiffy brand corn muffin mix come in handy. make two packages of cornbread a couple of days before the Big Day and store whole in a zippy lock type bag until ready to crumble up into the stuffing.
Mr. Phillips’ cornbread and pecan stuffing
all this is to taste. you can add less or more of each item.
1 lb breakfast-type sausage, or if you want more of a kick, andouille sausage
couple strips of bacon cut up into bits
1 ½ cups chopped onions
½ cup chopped celery
3 to 5 cups of coarsely crumbled cornbread (start low, add as you go if you want - 5 cups seems like a lot to me)
1 ½ cups chopped pecans
1 chopped apple (Granny Smith holds up well)
¼ cup bourbon or whiskey or cognac or sherry
¼ cup chicken stock
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1. In a large skillet, cook onions over medium-low heat with a pat of butter, a drizzle of olive oil, a teaspoon of sugar or brown sugar, stirring often. it will take a long while for them to caramelize, but you want that tasty good flavor, so start those and do something else in the meantime. when dark and browned and caramelized, remove from pan with a slotted spoon into a large bowl and start on sausage.
2. Remove sausage from casing and over medium heat, brown the sausage, breaking up with a fork and mashing the meat as you go. When no trace of pink is left, remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Discard most of the oil. You can use the same pan to cook a few strips of bacon or use another pan. When bacon is crispy, remove to paper towel-lined plate.
3. Discard most of the oil in the skillet, but leave some for cooking and flavor. Sauté the celery until soft. Remove from skillet and put in the large bowl.
4. Add the drained sausage and bacon, the pecans, apple, cornbread, bourbon, chicken stock, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Mix gently. Taste to see if you need to add more of any herb or seasoning. If it's not moist enough, add a touch more chicken stock. If it's too moist, add more cornbread. Place the whole of this into a buttered casserole dish and bake on 375 for 30 to 45 minutes (depending on your oven) until nice and hot. If you're making this the day before, cook for 30 to 35 minutes, and reheat the next day. Toss it into the oven right when the turkey comes out until it's warmed through.