Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chestnut Stuffing

This is my version of my paternal grandfather's Chestnut Stuffing. It's meant for stuffing the turkey for Thanksgiving (18 pounds of turkey, in fact, which is why I halved the recipe and why you'll see the smaller recipe here), but I love it on its own. I've updated the ingredients a bit and wrote out in more detail the sequence in which I think things should happen. The original recipe is written on a small index card and is very short-hand. For example, the original recipe called for two pounds of chestnuts, to be shelled and prepared, page 780. The other day, on a whim, I looked in the oldest published cookbook I have, which happens to be the cookbook that my father recieved from his parents when he went off to college, and the page did correspond to preparing chestnuts. Check out the Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook, original copyright in 1948. Fortunately, the book has been recently republished, so we can all see what Americans used to eat in the 1950's and what techniques were recommended for the housewife. Anyway, I guarantee you that once you try this stuffing based on rice instead of bread and with the earthy flavors of chestnuts and mushrooms, you'll never want to eat another stuffing again!

This is the picture from our Thanksgiving dinner this year when my father made the recipe his way:

Chestnut Stuffing

Chestnut Stuffing
Inspired by my grandfather
Makes 8 servings, or stuffing for a small to medium turkey

1 pound sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
5 stalks celery, finely chopped
Same quantity chopped onion as the celery (about 1 medium)
1 1/2 cups cooked long-grain rice
1 pound chestnuts with shell or 8 ounces pre-peeled chestnuts (Trader Joe's is currently selling vacuum-sealed, peeled and steamed chestnuts)
2 tablespoons Bell's Seasoning (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

If you bought chestnuts with the shells, peel and cook the chestnuts until they are chewy. I followed the advice in the Joy of Cooking for peeling the chestnuts, which involved scoring the chestnuts on the flat side with an X, bringing water to a boil in a pot and boiling the chestnuts for 5 minutes. Then, you turn off the heat, and leave the chestnuts in the hot water. Take only a few chestnuts at a time and peel away the top layer, as well as the finer, papery layers. If the peels resist, toss the chestnuts back in the water. Reboil the water if it cools before you are done. This takes patience. After peeling the chestnuts, be sure to boil them again in salted water or broth until they are chewy. If you bought the prepared chestnuts, making this stuffing is much simpler!

Fry out the sausage in a large pot or pan and pour off most of the grease. Add the celery, onions, and Bell's Seasoning and cook until they are clear. Add the rice and heat through. Add the mushrooms and chestnuts. Bring to a boil and simmer, adding water if the mixture starts to dry out. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are cooked. Allow to cool if it will be used as a stuffing for turkey. Otherwise, dig in! I find that the stuffing tastes better the next day after it has time to sit and meld flavors. Hope you like it!

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