Thanksgiving is the only holiday when what we do and what we eat are both described by the same word: stuffing.
How was your Thanksgiving? The answer largely depends on what you ate for stuffing, as well as how egregiously you stuffed yourself.
There is something tantalizing about a turkey and stuffing dinner. Each flavor follows inexorably to the next, the bland leading the bland. Why do we eat so much of it? Do we lose ourselves in the mesmerizing combination of enormous portions and early memories? Is it because stuffing takes up such a large area on the plate that in addressing the dinner and awaiting the ponderous toast or prayer we feel an Alice-in-Wonderland sensation of suddenly becoming very small? Staring at a heaped, steaming mound of comfort food, each portion elbowing out the other, do we imagine a family snuggling together against the oncoming winter cold? (Who will play the turkey? Who will be this year’s cranberry sauce – shockingly crimson and tart?)
The evidence is overwhelming. We overeat at Thanksgiving, with particular regard to carbohydrates. Which Founding Father decreed that we need to eat stuffing and mashed potatoes and candied yams and pumpkin pie with ice cream else we do an injustice to the memories of fallen patriots?The aftermath is all too familiar. This week we are all, Mr. Henry included, wandering around in carbo-psychosis fighting the deadly addiction hour by hour, skittering past the freezer still replete with that Olympian ambrosia, Haagen Dasz vanilla.
Despite its unappetizing name, however, stuffing can be marvelous.
The very best stuffing Mr. Henry ever ate was Nadia’s 1001 nights chestnut forcemeat cooked inside the bird – a woodsy, oriental, amber and frankincense delight that takes half the day to prepare. If you are in the mood for something subtle and heavenly, read on.
Boil 3 lbs. of chestnuts (slice an X in each before), peel and roughly chop in food processor
Lightly toast 1/2 lb. of almonds, chop together with sugar and cinnamon to the consistency of bread crumbs
Chop a handful of dried apricots
Sauté the turkey liver in a bit of butter, a splash of olive oil, shallots and port wine
Make a turkey stock from the giblets with an onion, celery, carrots, black pepper and saffron
Sauté chopped shallots or onion, then add chestnuts and sugared almonds, next add basic bread crumbs (not too many – this is a principally a chestnut preparation), chopped liver, apricots, orange zest, and enough stock to make a mixture that binds together but is not wet.
Stuff the turkey cavity and sew it closed.
Each guest will get a ladle-full of aromatic chestnut stuffing to accompany, not replace, the standard sage stuffing. The saffron, cinnamon and port lend the high notes. The liver and turkey stock gives bottom notes to the chestnut’s prevailing sweetness.