Christmas food seems to be all about the bird, but we’re not having one this year. I wanted one from the farm, and then saw the price tag. A bit of a shock, it was. Turkeys are plentiful, and more affordable, at the local supermarket but that has been ruled out. By my committee of one. Next year may well involve a rethink about what is important in the hierarchy of festive expenditure; trees, stocking fillers etc etc. This could lead to a discussion about what we as a society value and the true cost of food.
But it’s Christmas, so here is a stuffing recipe instead. Alongside lots of roasted, braised and mashed veg from the farm, this will take pride of place at ours this year. The kids will probably only eat potatoes and then excuse themselves. In case anyone is listening, all I want for Christmas is people to try things before they say they don’t like them. It would also be acceptable to humour me and pretend to like them.
Stuffing, with or without a bird
This is based on a recipe by Paula Wolfert, from one of the first cookbooks I purchased as a young adult. Hers is a French recipe from the Auvergne region, to accompany roast turkey and sauteed salsify, and the stuffing includes a host of lavish ingredients: walnuts, truffled white sausages (boudin blanc), cured ham, wild mushrooms, cognac and even blanched Swiss chard. My version is different, and it differs every year according to whim. It is a fairly standard recipe, once you get past all the posh stuff, which involves stale bread in very small pieces, flavoured with aromatic herbs and vegetables, a nut or two and some sort of charcuterie item, or two. It is then moistened with milk and bound with an egg, but other liquid, such as cream or alcohol can be used as well. Whim is key, so exercise your right to use it here.
To serve 4-6
4-6 slices bread, loaf ends best, baguette ok too
2-3 tbsp oil
3 celery stalks
150 g mushrooms (fresh or dried and soaked)
2 tsp dried thyme
Large handful chopped fresh parsley
125 g smoked bacon or cured ham
125 g sausage, (any kind just not spicy) finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
250 g cooked peeled chestnuts, chopped
About 250 ml milk or stock or cream, or a combination
Maldon or other salt
Preheat the oven to 200 C. Generously butter a baking dish.
Tear the bread into pieces and put in a food processor. Process to obtain coarse crumbs. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, add a good pinch of salt and set aside.
You can finely chop all the veg and meat by hand, but I use a food processor, since it’s out for the bread anyway. In the processor, combine the onion, celery, parsley, bacon or ham and mushrooms. Only the sausages don’t work well with the machine so chop those by hand.
In a skillet, combine the oil, onion mixture, thyme and sausage cook, stirring often, 5-10 minutes until golden and aromatic. Season well with salt. Transfer to the bowl with the breadcrumbs.
Stir in the garlic and chestnuts; taste and adjust seasoning. Add 1 beaten egg and at least 200 ml of your chosen liquid. It should be moist but not completely soggy. Add another egg, if it seems like 1 more is needed, and as much liquid as seems necessary.
Spread the mixture in an even layer in the prepared dish. It will dry out slightly with baking, so if it seems dry at the outset, add a bit more of any liquid: stock, milk or water. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until browned, about 15-25 minutes more. Serve, with or without a bird.