Gentle Readers, I was brought up in a family that didn’t understand me. They wanted to feed me vegetables. They made me eat fish (on Fridays). It got so bad, at one point I despaired of ever securing a steady diet of food that was bad for me. All I got was home cooking.
But then I grew up—or, at least, I grew older—and learned that broccoli, salads, soup and meats other than bologna and bacon might actually taste good. I’ve eaten a lot of food since then. A lot (I should have turned pro, really). Now, I’m at the point where I can name the foods I won’t eat on my fingers and toes, and maybe a friend’s fingers and toes. For example, while I’m averse to eating an onion like an apple, I may be persuaded to cook with shallots, green onions and at times, even employ the humble yellow or white onion, if it’s been cooked to death.
Which brings me to the topic du jour: the Thanksgiving (Thanksgiv’er) turkey stuffing. And at no extra charge, may I impose a great pre-gravy recipe as well? You ask: why should one consider a pre-gravy? Isn’t a gravy challenging enough? Ah. You’ve mistaken me for someone who doesn’t have a mug of hot gravy at the ready, sitting beside my dinner plate. For you exceptional eaters—and I count myself among you—it becomes key to have enough gravy, for your meal. How much is enough, you ask? The enough quotient can be met when your firstborn decides to swim in a pool of your gravy, and you caution him not to get any on the TV. Or the neighbours.
But I digress. Pre-gravy. The stuff you use to make gravy with. The stuff you save in extra-grande freezer bags and daughters-in-law beg you to gift them with at Christmas. Here’s how it’s done.
Clean, peel and rough-cut any combination of carrots, celery, peppers, ‘shrooms, onions (yes, even the hated yellow/white ones), and one apple. Toss them in the bottom of a good-sized roaster: one into which you can add several litres of liquid. Drizzle in olive oil.
Grab a family pack of chicken wings or thighs, whichever is cheaper, and toss them in on top.
Flavour this with some combination of pepper, paprika, soya sauce, Worcestershire sauce, any of the classic Italian herbs: summer savoury, thyme, oregano, herbs de Provence, sage, butter, and white wine vinegar. Did you notice I didn’t tell you the amounts? Hey! Where’s your sense of adventure?
Toss the lot into a pre-heated oven at 400degrees for half an hour.
Add a box of lower sodium chicken broth and 2 liters of water. Be prepared to add more: a second box of the broth later.
Throw it back in for an hour.
Take it out and, with a potato masher, beat up the meat as if it owes you money. Don’t ease off; the contents know they need to give you flavour, and this is what you’ll receive the harder you masticate (pound) it.
Now that your stresses have all been released, check to see there are buckets of liquid in the pan, and then toss the lot back in the oven to finish its job; say, another half hour.
Did you notice at this point you’ve really discovered this recipe is all about waiting around, beating something up, and waiting some more? The situation is eerily familiar to Steven, the bully I knew in Grade 8. Yes, this was where he learned how to be a bully. Loiter…pound…loiter. Easy-peasey.
Take it out, strain it, skim off some of the fat from the top (not too much! Where there’s fat, there’s flavour). Pop it into extra-large freezer bags and freeze until you need some.
Make gravy the same way you always do: with a slurry in the bottom of the turkey roaster. The only thing is, once it’s almost ready, add a litre or two of the pre-gravy and thicken accordingly to accommodate this extra volume. Voila! Three times the gravy and twice the flavour!
Have you ever chosen a song on Youtube, and been forced to listen to 4 seconds of advertisement before being able to hear your damned song? The pre-gravy was the ad; the stuffing is coming on now. About time, you say. I can’t argue with that.
Make a Johnny Cake. Many (most) of you call this a cornbread, which it is. But I call it a Johnny Cake. Potatoes-Potahtoes. Just don’t put the vanilla in it when you make it for stuffing. Use the muffin recipe from the back of the cornmeal bag, drop it into a greased/buttered 8X8 pan and don’t over-cook it! The toothpick method works great.
Grab a large frying pan. Larger. Yes, that one. Remove the skins from 4-6 sausages; more if you want it meatier. Mild, apple, hot, Italian, red pepper…I can’t choose this for you. It won’t be terrible if you grab the sausages from your freezer without looking at the kind. They all work, buddy. But def. remove the skins.
Fry the sausages in olive oil until the crumbles start to brown. Keep chopping away at the meat until it is comprised of smallish pieces. Once cooked, take it out and set it aside for now. Drain excess grease from the pan, but DO NOT wipe the pan out; these are the famous brown bits the cooking show chefs natter on about.
Chop up mushrooms, celery, grate an apple or 2, an onion (if you must), add a bit of garlic—not that much!! Jeez!—and fry it up. I also love pine nuts and craisins. Feel free to add your fave veg: finely-cut broccoli, red peppers, corn, etc. Please make sure you have lots. Just as it’s finishing, add the same flavourings you used in your pre-gravy: herbs, peppers, soya sauce…, give it a stir and toss it all into a massive bowl.
Massive bowls. It’s been my experience that when folks introduce the topic of ‘massive bowls’, what they mean is; large enough to stir a whack of food, plus space at the top so the food doesn’t fly out onto the floor. Since I’m not there (look around; I’m really NOT there), you must decide how big your version of massive is. That said; here’s a hint: 6 sausages, a Johnny Cake, a large frying pan of veg and stuff, and there y’go.
So. Into the bowl goes the entire cornbread cut up into 1” squares, minus the corner someone ate while they were drinking wine and waiting for all this to come together. I’m not pointing fingers; it really did look good, sitting there, waiting.
Add the sausages and the veg to the cornbread. If necessary, pour a bit of broth or water or white wine into the frying pan to de-glaze it and pour that into the bowl. Add chicken broth to moisten the mixture, as you gently combine everything. Dump it a) into the turkey cavity or b) into a large buttered pan. Use a pan large enough that the stuffing isn’t deeper than 1 1/2 inches deep. Dab butter on top. Don’t be shy with the butter. Bake at 350 degrees until it’s brown on top and crunchy in the corners.
And there you go. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t give you measurements. That’s because I don’t know how big your turkey/pans/company are. It makes a difference, you know. The other thing is this: if you like summer savory, add additional summer savory. If you like butter, dab on additional butter. It’ll be fine. What’s the worst that can happen; will rellies be staring at you as they take their first bite? I suppose. Will this be the first time they’ve ever stared at you like you were crazy? Um, I think not.