As a child, I counted the days to Thanksgiving. You don’t have to tell me this is unusual. As far as holidays go, most kids would agree Christmas is the best, with its presents, cookies and long break from school. Shopping malls and radio stations also rush to December, bringing out music and promotions just after Halloween.
But, in this holiday’s defense, I offer one word: turkey. Before I was old enough to know how a bird was cooked, I understood that slicing the crispy brown skin of one fresh from the oven would reveal white, tender meat perfect for a week’s worth of sandwiches. Coupled with all the trimmings, Thanksgiving turkey makes a meal worth anticipating. And this year, for the first time, I’d be the one making it.
The star of our feast was an eight-pound turkey breast (because we prefer white meat, and because we’d be out of town, so smaller would be easier) filled with my grandma’s recipe for moist bread stuffing, the most delicious thing I eat every year and so easy, it’s now going to be hard not to run head-first into the StoveTop grocery aisle, grabbing the arms of unsuspecting shoppers, tossing their boxes on the floor, shouting it’s for their own good.
Here’s how it’s done: When you make my grandma’s turkey stuffing, the first thing you must have is bread. If you’re cooking a small bird, or just a breast, you’ll halve her recipe, and so you’ll need a total 12 cups of bread cubes. Any loaf will work, but dry, crusty bread is particularly good for soaking up the sauces, and it’s a great way to make use of days-old bread.
Start by sautéing butter, diced onions, chopped parsley and chopped celery in a small fry pan on medium heat. Leave it like this for a while. (This was where I did some dishes, wiped down the countertops and had another bite of breakfast. You’ll choose your own distractions.) As you go about your business, a buttery fragrance wafts, slow and strong, through the room, heady with cooking onions. The pan will sizzle, air bubbles popping and appearing amidst simmering juices. Stir the mixture around, and you’ll find the ingredients limp, like your arms when you’re dreaming deeply or tulips that are past their prime. At this point, add salt, pepper and a bit of poultry seasoning; then pour in chicken broth. Stir it together, and let the spices soak in until the juices boil again. Then, pour the entire mixture over the bread crumbs, which you’ll have placed in a large bowl.
Stir the bread crumbs swiftly, letting the hot liquids soak into all the crevices, making every dried piece a soaked morsel. It’s best to begin with a large spoon and then, if you’re brave, work everything together with your hands. Strewn between your fingers, the stuffing will feel hot, wet, messy—a lot like a science project you attempted in junior high. When all the bread is thoroughly coated, it’s ready to be stuffed into your turkey breast.
The breast must be defrosted completely, and if some parts still seem frozen, a good rinse in the sink should help. A fringe benefit of using just a breast is that there’s nothing to scoop out—no innards, guts, etc. You’ll see a hollow cavity in back where the stuffing should go. Poke one hand in this side and the other through the neck cavity, and your fingers should meet in the middle. Fill both ends with the bread stuffing, and place the whole thing, breast side up, in a large roasting pan. Massage the turkey generously with olive oil, and add salt and pepper. Tent it with aluminum foil, and put it in the oven: 325 degrees for two hours to begin.
At two hours, remove the foil and add slices of butter all over, letting them melt into your turkey breast and drip down the sides. You can baste it a little, which without a baster means this: lifting one side of the roasting pan with one hand, using a large spoon to scoop juices from the bottom and pouring them over the turkey. Push it back in the oven, sans foil now, for another two hours.
By this point, most of the stuffing had fallen out for me, laying in one big clump just below the breast cavity. That’s fine. In fact, now having eaten the stuffing, I can say maybe this worked to my advantage.
When four total hours have passed, your kitchen like heaven with the smell of roasting meat and savory, soft stuffing in a pillow beside it, pull the roasting pan out of the oven. You’ll make gravy next, to be served with a banquet of other things cooked while waiting for the turkey. For us: peppered mashed potatoes (made by Adam), candied sweet potatoes (cooked on the stove), green bean casserole, Brown N’ Serve rolls and cranberry sauce.
Fresh from this Thanksgiving victory, I can conclude only one thing: back in elementary school, I was ahead of my time.
from my lovely grandma, who taught me to bake
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup diced onions
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup diced celery
1.5 cups chicken broth
1.5 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1.5 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
12 cups dried bread cubes
In a medium skillet, cook butter, onions, parsley and celery over medium-low heat. After a while, the mixture will begin to bubble; add the chicken broth. Bring it back to a boil, and add the seasonings and stir. Remove from heat, let cool just a bit and pour the still-warm mixture over the bowl of bread cubes. Stir it around, using your hands if necessary, to thoroughly coat each piece of bread.