November 11, 2005
Mushroom Chestnut Dressing

Thanksgiving is coming and that means dressing can't be far away. If we took this recipe and filled a bird with it, this would be stuffing, but as Alton Brown noted once, "Stuffing is EVIL".

Even when I was little and eating meat all the time, the turkey was only my second-favorite dish on the Turkey Day table. The undisputed champion was that casserole dish filled with dressing.

Dressing (or stuffing, if you must) is pretty simple. You need bulk, which is usually from stale bread; fat as a vehicle for the aromatics, which is provided by the butter; the aromatics themselves, which are the parsley, onion, celery, and sage; a binder, the classic role of the humble chicken egg; and a little something extra, which in this recipe is the mushrooms and the chestnuts.

Some recipes don't use eggs and some use cornbread and some- It's a pretty simple formula and you can work up a thousand variations on the theme. Here's one I created last night.

Mushroom Chestnut Dressing
1 lb mushrooms
1 onion
half loaf of sourdough
6 tablespoons butter
15-20 fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup vegetable broth
4 stalks celery
1 pound chestnuts
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
3 eggs, beaten lightly
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the half-loaf of sourdough into 1/2"-3/4" cubes. Don't trim the crusts. If you have time, let it sit uncovered overnight so it goes a little stale. If you didn't do that last night and want to make this recipe tonight, place the cubes of bread in a 200 F oven for about 15 minutes until they are just dried out, but not toasted.

Cut an X on the flattest side of each chestnut. Place the chestnuts on a cookie sheet in a 400 F oven and roast for about 10-15 minutes.

While they roast, slice the celery into 1/4" wide pieces, clean and quarter the mushrooms, dice the onion, and mince the sage leaves coarsely.

When the chestnuts come out of the oven, let them cool until you are able to handle them, then peel the chestnuts. There is a hard outer shell and a thin, brittle shell that must be removed. Cut away any black spots or you might experience that "bad pistachio" taste in your dressing.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Chop up the chestnuts into 1/2" or smaller pieces.

In a large skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. When it starts to foam, add the onion, sage, and celery and toss to coat. Let it simmer a couple of minutes, then add the mushrooms and celery and 1/2 cup of the vegetable stock. Add a generous pinch of salt. Mix well and simmer/sautee for 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms start to shrink.

Add the tarragon, oregano, parsley, black pepper, and chestnuts and mix well again.

Remove the skillet from the flame. Let cool about five minutes, then stir in the bread cubes and the eggs and mix well. Work quickly in case the mix is still hot enough to cook the eggs.

Spoon the contents of the skillet into a large casserole dish, preferably one with a lid. Dot the top with the remaining two tablespoons of butter. If the mix seems too dry, add up to 1/2 cup of vegetable stock to the casserole.

Cover and bake in a 350 F oven for 20-30 minutes.

The dressing is looser than the stuff that goes "shchlooop" out of the pan, but it's delicious. The sourdough crusts add something special to the flavor and texture.

My wife never eats to excess. Never. She ate this until she felt like she was going to pop.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at November 11, 2005 7:37 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Actually, AB has recanted his original position, conceding that a well-designed stuffing (using his Tonight Show w/ Johnny Carson model of stuffing design) can, in fact, be tasty and safe without resulting in an overcooked bird. (IIRC, he also makes a vegetarian-friendly stuffed squash in that episode.)

Posted by Sweth on November 11, 2005 at 1:41 PM

Interesting, but I see he essentally puts his stuffing in a cotton condom before shoving it into the bird. Not a bad idea, but not what most people would think of as stuffing.

I think I'd prefer to control each dish individually and pour some of the juices from the turkey pan into the dressing at the end if I wanted that poultry flavor.

AB is the only reason I wish I still had cable.

Posted by barrett on November 11, 2005 at 1:52 PM

Barrett, the cotton bag would at least allow the juices to seep into the stuffing. And he never specifically says it's in order to protect the stuffing from the bird or vice versa - makes me wonder if it's just so that you have good clean TV showing him pull it all out, instead of the mess it usually is to extract stuffing?

Anyway, I'm glad he finally admits it's possible. Also, I argue the point that you need a binding element. I've never noticed a huge difference between stuffing with and without an egg, so I just leave it out. One less thing to worry about bacteria-wise.

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 12, 2005 at 2:47 AM

The transcript implies it's a thermal deal. My guess is that by creating an air space he's giving the bird and stuffing room to heat independently and preventing the stuffing from glomming onto the inner cavities of the bird and acting as an insulator.

Of course I understand that cotton is porous. I assumed that was to allow juice penetration and steaming.

I guarantee this particular recipe wouldn't work without the egg. With it, the whole sticks together. Without it - bupkis. Other stuffings may, of course, be different.

Posted by barrett on November 12, 2005 at 3:20 AM

Oh, that Johnny Carson model was a little weird... So Barrett, um, are you selling ready-made pans of this in time for the Holidays? I'm kind of hungry right now, and am local... :-)

Posted by Monica on November 17, 2005 at 3:50 PM

Ha! Would that I could sell pans of this, but I have neither the time nor the commercial kitchen necessary.

It's not a difficult reciep at all. The hard part is finding the fresh chestnuts.

Posted by barrett on November 17, 2005 at 4:04 PM

I am making mushroom, chestnut dressing for the first time since my Aunt Rosa did in Italy where I spent time growing up. She said, "It is a gift of the earth to enjoy the mushrooms and chestnuts in this food." I've stuffed and at times dressed, I've used egg and at times not. My experience has taught me that my pallet leans to with the egg. I cook every thing that is going in it ahead of time, except for the egg. This helps to make sure that things are cooked through.
Thank you for this idea. Bon Appetit

Posted by Paolo on October 9, 2010 at 8:29 AM
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