Happy Thanksgiving! It’s vey cold here in New England – 7 degrees and sunny! Hope those high school football games carry on in the frigid weather!
Our Thanksgiving turkey has been dressed every year with a roast chestnut stuffing. I usually start roasting and peeling chestnuts a few weeks ahead of time and store the sweet meats in the freezer. This year, we have a hearty bounty of them and I heated them up in a little butter before putting them in the dressing. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
I usually put together the dressing by mid-morning so that it has a chance to cool completely before stuffing the bird when it goes in the oven early afternoon. There’s no rushing this timing so it kicks off the day’s cooking along with reheating a large pot of turkey stock that I started yesterday (more about that later.)
ROAST CHESTNUT STUFFING:
- In order to shell the chestnuts, I use a chestnut cutter (yes!) and split the peel of the chestnut all the way around from head to head. Then, I heat the slitted chestnuts until the water boils and let the chestnuts sit in the hot water for about 15-20 minutes. This step is essential for the hot water to enter the shell and to separate the inner skin from the meat inside. Then, I heat the oven to 425 degrees and roast the soaked chestnuts for 20 minutes or so. Usually, this yields a harvest of about 80% of the chestnuts from their shells. The other 20% either sticks to the skin or may be inedible. I do this numerous times (usually while watching football games on TV) before the holiday with chestnuts that I try out at 3 or 4 different stores. The chestnuts can cost anywhere from $7.95 a pound (Whole Foods and Shaws) to $4.95 at Market Basket. The ones from Market Basket, though cheaper had a higher attrition rate than the others. The ones I bought from Stop and Shop for $5.95 a pound worked out the best. The cost increases but is well worth it! Even the crumbly bits are good because they add so much flavor to the crumbs and vegetables.
- In a large pan, I melted half a stick of butter (YAY for BUTTER!! – at least for today) and warmed up the defrosted chestnuts.
- Took them out of the pan and melted 2/3rds of a stick of butter and one whole vidalia onion, chopped up, hearts of celery and the tender leaves inside and Bell’s Seasoning – a healthy sprinkle on top of the mixed vegetables. Cook until slightly softened.
- Add one bag of Pepperide Farm herb stuffing crumbs. Mix in gently and sprinkle with chicken broth to moisten it (being careful not to add too much or the stuffing will be a sticky blob rather than crumbling deliciousness.)
- Sprinkle more Bell’s Seasoning across this mixture – I even opened a new box rather than using what I had left over from last Thanksgiving!
- Add a large handful of fresh chopped parsley and mix in gently.
- Lastly, add the warmed chestnuts and fold into the stuffing. Sprinkle on a little more chicken broth if too dry. Do less than more.
- Let the dressing cool. Use part of it to stuff the cavities of the turkey and the neck area; secure with poultry pins (that I can never find when I need them!)
This chestnut stuffing is divine by itself. But when there’s homemade turkey gravy made from long-simmering stock, you don’t even need a turkey to make people happy (my youngest daughter related this to me once upon a time!) This recipe for stock may sound over the top, but believe me, no matter how much you make, there’s never enough. Plus, if the turkey gravy is this delicious, it makes EVERYTHING on your plate taste good. So here goes:
TURKEY STOCK GRAVY:
- I buy a pack of fresh turkey wings and roast them at 400 degrees for an hour.
- Then, I lightly brown onion and celery in a large soup pot, cut the roasted wings apart and add them to the pot. I use 2/3rds chicken broth and 1/3 water in the stock.
- Let it simmer slowly with the lid off to cook down a bit and then with the lid on.
- I store the stock in my pantry overnight which is as cold as a refrigerator.
- On Thanksgiving day, I degrease the fat from the top of the stock when it’s still cold. Then, simmer some more, adding the neck and giblets from the turkey when I’ve opened it up to rinse and dry it. I also pan fry the neck and giblets in some butter before adding to the cooked stock.
- Let the whole thing simmer until you’re ready to turn it to gravy. Hours rather than minutes. . .
- Remove and strain everything out of the stock and retain the stock in separate bowl.
- In the stockpot, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of flour, whisking well. Add a small amount of stock into the roue and whisk some more. Gradually, whisk in the rest of the strained stock. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. If the gravy is not thick enough, take some stock out, add a little more flour and mix well, then add back to the stock.
- Every year, I’m hunting around for something to serve the gravy from. I have never liked serving it from a big soup bowl so this year, I found a gravy boat (a small tureen, actually) and am all set!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We have much to be grateful for and sometimes lose sight of how much, given the toxic political environment we’re held hostage to. But, we are grateful nonetheless.