February 24, 2014
farce de dinde
I was thunderstruck. It just wasn’t fair. What would I do now? I had come to this market to purchase two loaves of traditional San Francisco‑style sourdough bread. These are long loaves made by old‑time bakeries. These are not artisan breads by the modern definition, but they are nonetheless very good. They are long, one‑pound loaves stuffed into longer paper bags. It is not uncommon for the bread to still be warm from the oven when you pick it up from the market. By the next day it will be stale. It is marketed under names like Pisano, Columbo, Parisian, Larraburu, and Toscano. It has plenty of the unique San Francisco sourdough flavor. It is the only bread that I like to use in my turkey stuffing. Sadly, it is no more.
It’s been a few years since I prepared a turkey and consequently made stuffing. It seems that in the time since I last made the stuffing, the few remaining brands of this old‑time, local bread ceased to exist.
My mourning was short lived. The bakery in the market, it turned out, produced a San Francisco‑style sourdough. It smelled like the real stuff, and after cutting into the loaf, the smell was even better. This stuff would probably work. And it did.
My recipe for stuffing has evolved since I developed it when I was living in Upstate New York in the early 1970s. I had always enjoyed my mother’s stuffing, but she only made it once a year for Thanksgiving. She never made more than would fit in the turkey. There was seldom enough. There was rarely any leftover the next day.
I called my mother and asked her for the recipe, but she said she didn’t have one. She just threw it together each year. So based on her guidance, I started to develop my recipe. The vegetables were straight forward: onions, celery, mushrooms, garlic, and parsley. So were the flavorings: pepper, thyme, and marjoram. The problem in Rochester in the 1970s was finding the right bread. I never did. But when I returned to Palo Alto in 1974, I had all the bread I needed.
In the early 1980s, a Chinese‑American friend, Don Chew, taught me how to use a Weber kettle‑style grill to quickly cook a turkey. I rapidly moved from the charcoal briquettes that Don instructed me to use to chunks of mesquite charcoal. To this, I added a layer of dampened hickory sawdust. I used my recently acquired surgical experience to sew both ends of the abdominal cavity tight, and stuffed it with various vegetables augmented with a serious sprinkling of dark, Chinese soy sauce and Shaoxing wine. I was now producing a turkey that was steamed from the inside and hot smoked from the outside. The results have been appreciated by guests for more than two decades. But since the cavity was walled off, there has been no place to cook the stuffing.
To paraphrase Alexander Graham Bell, when one cavity closes, another opens. Now I’m no longer limited to making stuffing to fill a void so I make lots more. I love it as a leftover, especially for breakfast, more than when I have it with the turkey.
The ingredient list below will produce about 24 amuse‑bouche portions. After preparing the stuffing, it can be cut into individual cubes. These can be frozen until service. I remove as many as I need and fry them still frozen. By the time they are browned on all six sides, the center is soft and warm.
85 g (3⁄4 stick)
85 g (3 oz)
yellow onion, 1⁄2‑cm (3⁄16‑in) dice
85 g (3 oz)
celery, 1⁄2‑cm (3⁄16‑in) dice
85 g (3 oz)
brown mushrooms, 1⁄2‑cm (3⁄16‑in) dice
fresh, flat‑leaf parsley, leaves only, coarsely chopped
2 large cloves
garlic, thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper
225 g (8 oz)
San Francisco‑style sourdough bread, cut into 2‑cm (3⁄4‑in) cubes (see note)
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the vegetables and salt. Sweat the vegetables until they are cooked. Stir in the pepper, thyme, and marjoram.
2. Off the heat, using a wooden spatula, mix the bread into the vegetable mixture. The crumb from the bread should begin to fall apart. If the mixture seems too dry, sprinkle a little chicken broth over it. The final mixture should have the vegetables evenly dispersed, and the bread should be soft and just beginning to disintegrate. There should still be discernable cubes of bread.
3. Place the saucepan with the stuffing in it off to the side of the counter, cover with a damp towel, and ignore until the next day.
4. The next day, form the stuffing into a 21⁄2‑cm (1‑in) thick rectangular shape on a parchment paper‑lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until quite cold and firm.
5. Cut the stuffing into 21⁄2‑cm (1‑in) cubes. Arrange the cubes on a baking sheet so that none of them are touching each other. Freeze the cubes until hard.
6. Vacuum‑pack the frozen cubes in packages according to the number of guests you normally entertain. Store the packages in the freezer until necessary.
Note: If you don’t have a sour‑tasting sourdough bread to use, try adding a little, maybe 1⁄4 t, tartaric acid powder to the stuffing mix. I haven’t had the need to try this, but it might work.
The following gravy recipe is a miniaturization of the one I use when I make a turkey. It should produce about 4 servings.
60 ml (1⁄4 c)
turkey or chicken broth
41⁄2 g (11⁄2 t)
cooked mushrooms, finely diced [optional]
freshly ground black pepper
1. Whisk the broth and flour together in a small saucepan. Place over high heat and continue whisk until hot and thick.
2. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Keep warm until needed.
To finish the dish: Carefully fry the frozen bread cubes in a dry frying pan over medium heat until each side is lightly toasted. Divide the gravy between individual serving dishes and top each with a single stuffing cube. Serve immediately.