Turkey hunting season on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is in the late spring. I believe this must be a conspiracy with the farmers who raise turkeys. Just as well ~ I am sure wild turkeys taste just as gamey (and quite frankly as nasty) as a wild goose or duck. Wild turkeys are hilarious to observe and can be quite brazen. Fast too, as my husband Bob and dog Looey can attest to after being chased by mama when coming too close to her young.
FARM RAISED TURKEYS IN A PEN
As you know, fall is my favorite season. Here at the river the weather on Thanksgiving typically provides us with a spectacular day. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday as it all about family, friends, food and fun. Some of my four sisters say that I throw a “Martha Stewart Thanksgiving”. I take this tremendous compliment to heart as Ms. Stewart ‘gets’ the whole entertaining package and I must admit that I have learned a thing or two from her.
From the time I was a small child, I can remember the same dishes traditionally being prepared year after year. Not that there is anything wrong with that (really, green bean casserole?) but now I insist on a few new dishes every year. Foodie that I am, it is not hard to select recipes from the hundreds I have read or watched being prepared on television. I enjoy starting new traditions with food that I can bring to my holiday table.
The star of the meal is of course the turkey. Salt it to death overnight and the next day (after rinsing the salt off with water and towel drying it) prepare a herb butter for the skin or just slather the bird with olive oil and poultry seasoning. Stuff it, truss it and cook it at 325 degrees for 18 minutes per pound. Once the turkey has been in the oven for about an hour and is releasing some juices, begin to baste your beauty with turkey stock every half hour. The turkey will be delightfully moist and have a gorgeous brown skin.
This year I will prepare my usual stuffing for the bird and also a new oven baked dressing that is MOIST. One day I vow to make oyster stuffing since fresh local oysters are so readily available here on the shore. My 90-year-old mother won’t eat it so I will hold off on that recipe for now. However, to include oysters on my menu I will prepare those baked oysters that I shared in a previous post about my fantasy dinner with Thomas Jefferson. Make them yourself and serve with cocktails to occupy your guests while putting the finishing touches on your stellar meal.
My tried and true recipe for stuffing is one that I watched my mother make for so many years. I have made it my own by doctoring it with fresh herbs from my garden, using way more butter, celery, onion, seasoning and homemade turkey stock. The proportions of the ingredients change each time I make it so you’ll have to go with the flow and wing it.
ALI’S WHITE BREAD STUFFING
- 5-6 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- At least one stick of butter
- 2 tsp. poultry seasoning*
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 loaf of STALE white bread, cubed
- About 1 cup homemade turkey stock (or store bought)
*Poultry seasoning is thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram, black pepper and nutmeg. This year I am using the first three herbs fresh and finely ground from my garden (sage will probably not survive if there is a frost). I don’t grow marjoram and you really could eliminate it altogether because thyme and sage are the key herbs anyway. The last two spices will come from the pantry- I can’t grow them- you can roll your eyes or chuckle now.
- Sauté the celery, onion and herbs/seasoning in butter until soft.
- Cool slightly and mix with bread cubes.
- Moisten the stuffing with just enough stock that it forms a loose ball in your hand.
- Fill both the body and neck cavities with stuffing right before putting the turkey in the oven. DO NOT be tempted to do this the night before or you will literally risk poisoning your guests.
Now, if I were not venturing into new territory and making an additional dressing (one in the bird, the other in a baking pan), I would tell you to double the above recipe and place the remaining bread mixture in a pan and bake it for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Word of warning: it is very dry and requires oodles of gravy.
So my plan for this year is to prepare a cornbread dressing that I have modified to call my own. AND it requires the use of my favorite cast-iron skillet!
ALI’S BUTTERMILK CORNBREAD, CHESTNUT AND PANCETTA DRESSING
- 1-1/2 cups pancetta, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- Buttermilk cornbread, crumbled (recipe to follow)
- 1/3 cup whole roasted chestnuts, chopped*
- 1 cup turkey or chicken stock
- 2 T. melted butter
- 1 T. fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 T. fresh sage, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
*Our neighbors have mature chestnut trees on their property and share these wonderful nuts with us (before the squirrels get to them). You can buy whole chestnuts already peeled at gourmet specialty shops. I roast them on an open fire (yes, I realize that you would like to break into song) for about 15 minutes, peel and then chop them. Walnuts or pecans could be substituted I suppose.
- Sauté pancetta in a large skillet until browned. Add next 3 ingredients and sauté until vegetables are tender.
- Place crumbled cornbread in a large bowl. Stir in chestnuts and pancetta mixture.
- Stir in stock and next 5 ingredients. Spoon into a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking dish.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until lightly browned.
- 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
- 3 large eggs
- 4 T. sugar
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 cup fresh corn kernels*
- 1-1/2 cups fine yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup melted butter
*I freeze fresh corn at the end of the summer that I have blanched and cut off the cob. If you don’t have a food sealer- buy one- they are invaluable.
- Whisk together buttermilk, eggs, sugar and baking soda in a large bowl; stir in corn kernels.
- Stir together cornmeal and flour; gradually whisk into buttermilk mixture.
- Whisk in the melted butter.
- Pour batter into buttered cast-iron skillet and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes. Test center with a toothpick. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
So start thinking about your Thanksgiving menu now. Get out of your comfort zone and make something new. If it flops- laugh about it and your guests will too! Thanksgiving at the River will continue next time… Bon Appétit!