Southern Style Cornbread Stuffing

My son made a request this year for Southern Style Cornbread Stuffing.  I love a challenge in the kitchen so I told him it would be part of the menu.  I looked at a lot of recipes online and one in particular from a new favorite blog called The Pioneer Woman Cooks, then I developed my own recipe.

For me, southern flavor begins with a Virginia country ham.

I started with a superb southern ingredient, country ham.  I had a large one, a true Virginia smoked ham and cut several slices which I then cut into small diced pieces.  I sautéed the ham and added to it onions, celery, and apples.

Already the house was smelling like Thanksgiving in Virginia but then I added the “ole’ granddad” of all southern  ingredients, bourbon!

sauteing ham, onion, celery, and apples makes the house smell good...

Once the bourbon hit the pan the dish had a fragrance that transported everyone in the house to another world!  Then I added my own turkey stock (recipe to be posted soon).  I seasoned this mixture with fresh sage, thyme, parsley, black pepper and a small amount of salt.  I went easy on the salt because the ham is quite salty.

...but adding the bourbon, herbs, and turkey stock takes it to a whole other level!

To this I added cornbread  and regular–stale–white bread.  I mixed it all together, moistening it a bit more with additional turkey stock, put it in a baking dish and drizzled with a small amount of melted butter and baked it in the oven at 350° for 40 minutes.

Homemade cornbread was the primary stuffing, along with some additional white bread.

Today when the turkey comes out of the oven I will drizzle some of the liquid gold in the bottom of the roasting pan over this stuffing before re-warming it in the oven.

This stuffing would be baked outside of the turkey, but drizzled at the end with pan drippings from the turkey.

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Cranberry Chutney – Beyond the Canned Stuff!

Make plenty because this makes for an excellent condiment on those post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches!

One of the most prominent features of Thanksgiving is tradition and tradition means different things to different people.  But one requirement I have never understood is the need for canned, jellied cranberry sauce.  More than once I have been told that the ridged shape of the can itself must be visible in the mold of the sauce for certain family members to enjoy it!  Really?!?

Fortunately this is an easy enough request to fulfill.  I can open the can on both ends and push it out onto a plate and say, “There you go, knock yourself out” but I don’t have to settle for that myself!

Cranberries are a quintessential symbol of Thanksgiving and New England

The cranberry is so quintessentially seasonal and New England that next to the turkey itself it is for me, a symbol of Thanksgiving.  There is so much one can do with this tart bright berry.  My choice this year is a chutney which makes use of dried fruit and will be a perfect counterpoint for the more earthy flavors of squash, potatoes, turkey and gravy.

Start with equal parts vinegar and sugar.  For a single 12oz bag of fresh cranberries you should use about a cup of each.  You can use almost any flavor of vinegar but for me the season calls for apple cider vinegar.  I also prefer brown sugar because it melts easily but regular table sugar will work fine.

Begin by simmering a cup of vinegar with a cup of sugar and a finely chopped onion.

To this add a whole onion chopped finely.  Again, the type of onion is up to you, but here I like a red onion simply because it is pretty.

Now add dried fruit.  Once again, the choice is yours.  You could use prunes, raisins, persimmons, apricots, or even sun dried tomatoes.  Experiment!

Next add dried fruit and spices such as apricots, dates, currants, raisins; and for spices, use ginger, cinnamon sticks and cloves.

The last thing to add before the cranberries is the spices.  This too is up to the individual but Thanksgiving calls for a certain combination of things like whole cloves, fresh ginger (minced), allspice, and in my case, whole cinnamon sticks.

Bring this whole mixture to a simmer for 3-5 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar and mix the ingredients.  Then add the cranberries.  It will seem somewhat dry because the cup of vinegar quickly thickens with the sugar and fruit but it won’t take long for the cranberries to yield their moisture.

Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer until the sugar dissolves and the sauce begins to thicken (about 5 min)

Simmer the berries on low stirring gently somewhat frequently.  Slowly the berries will burst and as they do the chutney will become more of a sauce and thicken before your eyes.  You pretty much want all the berries to burst and this should take 10-15 minutes. 

Now add the cranberries and simmer until nearly all of the berries have burst (about 15 min)

Remove the sauce to a bowl and let cool and this can be made days in advance–and will actually benefit from being made in advance.  Make plenty because this is also a fantastic condiment on post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches!

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Herbed Rub for Thanksgiving Turkey

In previous postings I described how to brine a Thanksgiving turkey, and how to roast a Thanksgiving turkey.  Now I describe the step in between those to activities, rubbing an herbed mixture of butter and olive oil under the skin of the turkey.

This step makes the turkey self-basting and imparts delicious flavor to both the turkey itself as well as the pan juices which will go into gravy and possibly soup.

Herbed Rub for Thanksgiving Turkey

The first ingredient in this recipe, Dijon mustard, is listed as optional.  I personally do not care for it because I find the flavor out of place with the traditional Thanksgiving palate.  That said, I have prepared turkeys with the mustard for hundreds of people who swear by it and love it.  You be the judge.

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard (optional, see note above)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 oz melted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs lemon zest
  • 2 tsp dry thyme
  • 1 Tbs fresh sage, chopped

Coarsely puree all ingredients in a food processor.

Reserve half the mixture and store in refrigerator.

Rinse turkey and pat dry.  Season inside and out with salt and pepper.  If you followed my brining recipe, remove the orange quarters from the cavity.

Slide your hand under the skin of the turkey to loosen it from the breasts, thighs and drumsticks.  You may need to pierce a small opening with a paring knife but do your best to maintain the integrity of the skin to the bird.

Using your hand, spread the herb mixture under the skin of the turkey.  Spread it evenly over the breast, thighs, and legs.  (You may be surprised at the level of primal satisfaction this delivers!)

When the mixture has been spread evenly under the skin, take the remainder of this half of the mixture and put it in the cavity of the turkey.

Place the bird in a roasting pan and cover the whole thing with a large plastic bag or trash bag.  Store it in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.  (This enables the mixture to work itself into the bird somewhat.  If your schedule does not permit this amount of time, that’s fine.  True, it could have been even better, but your guests will never know.)

At roasting time, spread the second half of the mixture over the outside of the skin, evenly all over the bird.

This bird will now baste itself for the first 90 minutes to 2 hours that it roasts.  The mixture will flavor the pan drippings as well as the skin and flesh.  Be prepared, this is going to be a really great meal!

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Brining the Thanksgiving Turkey

There are a lot of choices available for selecting your Thanksgiving turkey but my preference has always been for the standard supermarket bird which I brine and rub under the skin with herb butter.

This posting will initially go up without pictures because I want to give people time to plan their meal.  When I do my own I will take pictures and add them to the posting. (I’ve cooked my turkeys like this for years but I only started blogging early this year so I never took pictures.)

Brining is a time-tested process for improving poultry and lean meats.  The brine is a solution of salt and sugar in which the meat soaks prior to roasting.  The salt and sugar penetrate the flesh imparting moisture and seasoning.  The result is moist delicious meat that might otherwise have been dry.  If you’ve ever eaten turkey breast meat that was cooked until it dried out, you will appreciate what brining can do.

If you’re interested in the science of brining (and it is interesting) there is an excellent explanation on the Cook’s Illustrated website. 

Their site uses a brine of straight water salt and sugar.  My Thanksgiving turkey brine is much more seasonal and imparts the flavors of fall.  Ingredients like apple cider add more sugar and a bit of acid to the mix, and the spices will transform a plain old turkey into resplendent autumnal feast.

This autumnal brine uses apple cider, ginger, bay leaves and other Thanksgiving-inspired spices.

One reasonable question when you see the amount of salt and sugar in the brine recipe is, “Won’t the meat be overly sweet and salty?”  The answer is no.  It will indeed season the meat, but not to the proportions of the brine itself.

If you buy an expensive free-range organic turkey, consult the vendor as to whether they think brining is necessary.  I find it more useful on a garden-variety supermarket bird than I would on some of these specialty products.

This does require advance planning because a bird the size of a turkey will need 12-24 hours in the brine. 

After the brine process is over, I recommend you rub herb butter under the skin of the turkey prior to roasting.  Done properly, this adds another 1-2 days to the process.  This means you need to begin preparing the turkey on Monday! 

Don’t have that kind of time?  No problem.  You could put the turkey in the brine on Wednesday morning, give it 12 hours, and rub the butter under the skin and refrigerate overnight.  It will then be ready to roast Thursday morning.

The recipe for the herbed butter rub will post tomorrow.

Brine Recipe

  • 1 Turkey
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 2/3 cup kosher salt (plain table salt can be used…I prefer kosher)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 oz sliced fresh ginger
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp crushed peppercorns
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 oranges, quartered
  • 2 kitchen sized trash bags

In a sauce pan, combine the cider, salt, sugar, ginger, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, and allspice.  Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.  Let boil for 3 minutes (your house will begin to smell like Thanksgiving!)

Add some of the water to help the brine cool to room temperature.

The easiest way to manage this is to position the bags and turkey in a large bowl, or in my case in a small sink.

Remove the bag of giblets and stuff the turkey with the orange quarters. 

Double the trash bags and put the turkey in them.  Add the brine and the remaining water.  Draw the bags up and tie them tight.  Refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

Pour the brine in the bag and draw it up tight around the turkey.

Note: If you do not have room in your refrigerator for this you can use a large cooler.  Add a bag or two of ice around the turkey/brine bag and fill the cooler with water.  Make sure the brine is closed tight so the cooler water does not dilute the brine.

This arrangement takes little more space than the turkey in its original packaging but if fridge space is limited you can use a cooler with ice surrounding the bag.

When the turkey comes out of the brine, rinse it off and discard the brine.  Next I recommend rubbing herb butter under the skin for a self-basting turkey.

When it is time to roast, here are some instructions on that:  Roasting the Thanksgiving Turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Roasting a Thanksgiving Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

Roasting Instructions for Turkey

 

 

To Stuff or Not to Stuff

Many health guidelines now discourage stuffing in the bird.  This is because many people pull it from the oven before the stuffing has reached a high enough temperature to kill bacteria.

 

Stuffing in the bird:  If you choose to stuff your turkey, just make sure that when you roast it, that the stuffing itself registers 165°, as well as the reading for the meat recommended below.

 

Stuffing outside the bird:  Cooking the stuffing in a separate container doesn’t mean giving up that great turkey flavor.  The stuffing will cook during the last hour that the turkey is roasting.  At that point, you will have accumulated some concentrated flavor in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Simply draw some out with a turkey baster or a spoon and pour it over the stuffing.  Then cover the stuffing and put it in the oven.

 

 

Preheat oven to 325°.

 

Roasting time:  This and the following chart will tell you the total roasting time range. 

Weight Unstuffed Stuffed
8-12 lbs. 2 ¾ – 3 hrs. 3 – 3 ½ hrs.
12 – 14 lbs. 3 – 3 ¾ hrs. 3 ½ – 4 hrs.
14 – 18 lbs. 3 ¾ – 4 ¼ hrs. 4 – 4 ¼ hrs.

 

Remove and reserve the bag of giblets.  These are excellent for making a quick stock to be used in a gravy or sauce if you like.  Instructions for that are below.

 

Put the turkey in the oven and set the timer for 1 ½ hours.  You should not have to do anything except keep the oven closed!  A quick peek at the bird can drop your oven temperature up to 100°.

 

After 90 minutes, begin basting the turkey approximately every 20 minutes.  This will give the turkey that perfect Norman Rockwell appearance!

 

As it approaches the low end of the total cooking time range, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.  When it registers 175° pull the turkey out.  You want it to get to 180, but the temperature will continue to rise at least 5 degrees after pulling it from the oven.

 

If you do not have a meat thermometer, grab the end of the drumstick and wiggle it.  When the turkey is done, the drumstick will be loose, and almost fall off in your hand.

 

After pulling from oven, allow at least 15 – 20 minutes before carving; otherwise, the juices will all be at the surface of the meat and completely escape onto the carving board upon slicing.

 

Troubleshooting

 

Over-browning or browning too fast:  If you feel the bird is becoming too dark, or browning dark long before the meat is cooked, simple place a piece of foil loosely over the bird and return it to the oven.  This will slow the browning.

 

 

Quick Simple Stock

 

In a medium saucepan, place 1 onion, 2 carrots, and 1 celery stalk—all coarsely chopped—and the giblets that came with your turkey.

 

Add a bay leaf, thyme (1 tsp. dry, or 1 tb. fresh), parsley (2 sprigs), and a half tsp. black pepper.  Do not salt.

Add water to almost fill the pan.

 

Bring to simmer, and let simmer without stirring until half of the water has evaporated. 

 

Strain stock, discard the rest.

 

Basic Gravy

 

When the roasted turkey has been removed from the pan, pour all of the drippings into a fat separator, or if you don’t have one, a glass.  Skim the fat off, reserving a quarter cup of the fat, and all of the drippings.

 

In a sauce pan, over medium heat, heat the fat, and add an equal amount of flour, stirring vigorously with a whisk.  If it appears to be burning or sticking a lot, reduce the heat.

 

Once blended, continue to stir and cook for a full 5 minutes to avoid a floury pasty taste.  This is a roux, and it will get darker, which will result in better gravy.

 

After five minutes, add the turkey stock you made, slowly, whisking constantly until it is all added (you should have about a pint).  If you didn’t make stock, canned chicken stock will make a fine substitute.

 

As it reaches a simmer, you will see it thicken.  Now add the drippings that you separated from the fat and whisk those into the gravy.

 

Correct the flavors with salt and pepper and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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