Stuffed To The Gills
From Wonder Bread to oysters, there's more than one way to stuff a bird.
Thursday, November 11, 1999
Seventy loaves of Wonder Bread. She does it every year. My sister, Betty, fills up the back of the family wagon with 70 loaves of Wonder Bread and dutifully carts it into the Shelbyville United Methodist Church basement kitchen in Shelbyville, Indiana where, for as long as I can recall, she has been in charge of turning the ensuing mountain of spongy, white fluff into turkey stuffing.
If you''ve ever tried cutting Wonder Bread you''ll appreciate the arduousness of the task.
When they came up with the Wonder Bread formula (I hesitate to call it a recipe), they didn''t have my sister in mind, there in the basement of the Shelbyville United Methodist Church, dependable as clock work, every third week of November.
"Wet bread dressing" is what she calls it, as she tirelessly de-gums her chef''s knife to plow through another bag of air-bread. Somewhere in the church by-laws it is written that every Thanksgiving Community Dinner, wet bread dressing shall be served. Since Shelbyville United Methodist''s succession of pastors has consistently failed to produce a man of God who can roast a turkey-always the preacher''s role-without drying out the breast, the wet bread dressing is actually the perfect accompaniment. Jesus with his fishes doubtlessly approves of my sister''s tricks with her loaves.
You can tell a lot about somebody by their dressing. The response to "what kind of stuffing do you put with your turkey?" can yield almost as much information as you''ll find on a birth certificate. You get a clue about what part of the world the stuffer is from, and even an indication of their zodiac alignment. For instance, Quail Lodge''s chef Bob Williamson is obviously a Gemini. He immediately came up with two kinds of dressing, chestnut and oyster, which also lent a strong indication that he''s British. There''s the accent, too, of course.
"You can use butter," Williamson explains, "but I actually prefer the poultry fat to saute the celery, onions and thyme. A little lemon zest is good, too. You can get a little creative, maybe add some chopped ham or sausage, a good choice if it''s accompanying turkey." The chopped roasted chestnuts add even more texture and flavor. Williamson soaks the dried baguettes for his stuffing in milk, and then binds everything together with eggs.
"The oyster stuffing is particularly good with roasted range hen," he adds. "You just make the same basic dressing and season it with parsley, sage and lemon zest, give the oysters a quick saute and toss them in. It''s surprising, the nice background taste that they lend, without being at all fishy."
It''s highly probable that chef, restaurateur and TV host John Pisto is an Aquarian since we took off on a tangent that included at least 12 different cooking methods (including the brined and rotisserie-roasted pork shoulder that he does as a Whaling Station special) and ancient Sicilian culinary delicacies (the tuna egg he was introduced to in Italy, shaped like an ironing board and tasting like "the best anchovy you''ve ever had in your life"), before getting back to the stuffing.
An avid mycologist, of course Pisto''s Turkey Day stuffing is gonna be loaded with lactarius fragilis, better known as candy cap mushrooms. "It takes about 2,000 of them to make a pound," he explains, "so I order them from Oregon." And if you''ve ever gotten a whiff of this remarkable fungi, you''ll immediately understand how they got the name. "They smell just like maple syrup," he confirms, and he''s right. The sweet, earthy flavor they emanate is ample reward for the challenge their harvest entails.
Pisto likes to saute the mushrooms in butter, give them a splash of madeira or sherry, add some crumbled cooked sausage and some chopped dried fruit, and work everything together with cornbread. Perfect with turkey or game, this is California cuisine at its finest, the handiwork of a first-generation Californian of Sicilian ancestry. Too bad the women of the family won''t let him get in the kitchen when the big day rolls around. "When the women all get in there together, they throw me out," he laughs. "I guess I make ''em nervous!"
Ever since Michael Kimmel started making their Thanksgiving menu available for take-home a couple of years ago, it requires an Olympic-size swimming pool to mix all the stuffing that Tarpy''s Roadhouse goes through. Bowing to hallowed tradition, Kimmel does onion-sage stuffing (a Midwestern dead-ringer...) using toasted sourdough bread (...once removed). He uses lots of fresh, chopped sage mixed in with all the onions and celery, and enriches it all with good, strong turkey stock before binding with eggs and baking it off.
And, even if your idea of a good time has nothing to do with French bread, cornbread, sourdough, Wonder Bread, turkey or any of its plethora of potential trimmings, Tarpy''s lets you take all the credit anyway. Their selection of apps, main courses, vegetables, sides, and desserts is priced per portion and available for take-out, if you put in your order by Nov. 22.
Start with fall harvest wild mushroom vegetable soup with sherry or Dungeness crab cakes, go with traditional turkey and dressing, porcini-crusted prime tenderloin filet with a balsamic-port reduction sauce, or grilled salmon with tomato-cucumber relish, just a few of several options. Sweet corn and thyme pudding, roasted garlic whipped potatoes, braised red cabbage with apples, brown sugar-glazed butternut squash, and pan-seared wild mushrooms with garlic and rosemary are some of several means by which to round things out. Desserts like ollallieberry pie, pumpkin cheesecake with ginger crust, chocolate-espresso bread pudding or devil''s food chocolate mousse cake are available for purchase and sold whole.