“How do I make stuffing, Mum?” And a few other things I forgot to ask.

Posted: July 18, 2012 in Humour, Popular Culture et al, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This is what it’s meant to look like. Cross your fingers, Dear Reader

One of the things that really gets to me is when people die and they take their folk wisdom to Heaven with them, or into oblivion, depending on what you believe. (I don’t believe in Hell, but that’s another matter.)

My dear old Mum, whose birthday it would have been recently as I noted the other day, was a dab hand in the kitchen.

Provided the meal you were cooking had its genesis prior to the Second World War, she could cook it.

Better still, she knew all about meat, poultry, fish and more. She was a fish merchant’s daughter, and married into a trawling family, and was a sometime fishmonger’s wife – although she insisted on Dad being called a “Wholesale Fishmonger”, which he was, although they did have a small shop in Carbery Avenue in Bournemouth, too – I think she thought “Wholesale Fishmonger” sounded grander than “Shopkeeper”.

Anyway, Mum taught me a lot about cooking, and I have added knowledge over the years. But what I miss, now she’s gone, is being able to pick up the phone and say “So how do I do such-and-such again?” or “How do I choose the right cut of ….?” She would always know, cheerfully handing down her expertise in her delightful sing-song Welsh accent, which I can still hear in my head, when I try.

Today was one of those days. She-who-must-be-obeyed was rushing off, late, to her studio to make more glass, when we had the obligatory “So what are we having for dinner tonight then?” hallway conversation.

The week’s menu is never especially planned in our household, essentially because we lead peripatetic, busy lives, and people grab what they want depending on their schedule and how they feel. We do try to do better, though, really we do – every now and then we have what we call “a big shop”, which entails her indoors and I heading off to the supermarket full of lists and good intentions, meal plans in pocket, where we proceed to buy pretty much everything in sight.

What’s that? They’re going shopping again? Hope they get those pork and leek sausages, they’re my fave. Stay calm now. Look disinterested.

Invariably, though, half of it whizzes past its use by date faster than you can say “I reckon use by dates are a con to get us buying more”, and rather than risk self-inflicted dysentery or cholera it ends up being given to the dog, who apparently isn’t affected by food bacteria of any kind, and is also apparently evolutionarily equipped to eat the entire content of a fridge freezer over a couple of days without getting sick, should he need to. Or rather, should we need him to.

The dog eats better than we do. Well, the dog eats as we are supposed to, let’s put it that way.

So today, I grunted, trying to recall what we had invested in during the last big shop, and murmured, “I dunno, um, Chevapchichis? Chops? What does everyone want?”

It’s not everyone. I am advised that the fruit of my loins is heading into the City to do with her friends whatever 21 year olds do when their parents are not watching, and that it’s just the Leader of the Opposition and I for dinner this evening, and what’s more the free range chicken in the fridge is two days past it’s use-by date, and what did I think? Well, after a moment what I thought is bugger it, I shall cook the chicken even if it’s only two of us, cause it’s freezing bloody cold today and a roast chicken sounds just the go on a chilly winter’s eve, and anyway, it’s been in the fridge, so honestly it’s bound to be alright. Isn’t it? I mean, they always stick a day on that’s too early cause of being safe and not getting sued, and anyway I am sure it’s fine. Specially after I have roasted the life out of the bloody thing. So suitably mollified, wife sets off for the studio and I set off for the fridge.

At the fridge, though, I am plunged into indecision. The chicken looks alright. I know, I’ll ring Mum and ask. No, idiot, you can’t do that. OK, what would Mum have done? Smelled it. That’s right.

Unpack chicken and stick nose near it. Can’t smell a bloody thing, nose is all bunged up. Into bedroom, into nose with decongestant spray, back to kitchen, sniff, try again. Hmmm. Chicken smells like … raw chicken. But when is raw chicken a “Yup, all good, chuck it in the oven” smell, and when is it a “Give to the dog or throw it in the bin, but do not eat because salmonella is real not an urban myth” smell?

To tell the truth, I have always disliked the smell of raw meat. I have never dared try a steak tartare for that reason. So I give up using the olfactory nerves and wash my hands and take to poking it, uncertainly. I remember something Mum said about the flesh bouncing back if it’s fresh, or maybe the flesh bounces back if it’s the chicken equivalent of primordial soup. But she can’t tell me which it is any more, so after a few minutes of inconsequential worrying, and a large vodka, I just decide to cook the shit out of it and hope for the best. Peeling some spuds is surprisingly soothing, as is a second vodka.

I turn the uselessly slow and inaccurate oven onto its highest setting, with is somewhere roughly around “warm summer’s day in the Yukon” and turn to start loading it up.

But wait! Stuffing!

One simply cannot cook roast chicken without stuffing. It would be like serving roast beef without Yorkshire pudding, or roast lamb without mint jelly. Eating a peanut butter sandwich without jelly. (Well, actually that last one is quite a good idea, unless you’re an American, and their cuisine is simply peculiar.) Biscuits and milk. Beer and … well insert any bad-for-you-snack you like in here. Hamburgers and french fries.

A roast chicken just isn’t a roast chicken till it’s been stuffed. But never fear, Dear Reader, because there’s always a packet or two of Sage & Onion stuffing or perhaps Parsley & Thyme in the pantry, pending just such an emergency.

Except there isn’t, of course.

So now I have a raw chicken, a heating up oven, impeccably peeled potatoes. And no stuffing. And the clock is ticking.

Stuffing is essentially breadcrumbs of course. I remember the Trouble ‘n Strife blathering something the other day about “I need to use up all those breadcrumbs in the freezer, we need to have roast chicken soon”.  Saved! But on rushing to the freezer, it turns out “all those breadcrumbs” is actually about half a cup in an old Chinese takeaway container. Undaunted, I start feverishly searching for day old bread to make some more breadcrumbs. But instead of finding, as one usually would, about four half-eaten loaves of bread of various kinds secreted around the kitchen, all I can turn up is one perfectly fresh white loaf.

“Can’t make breadcrumbs with fresh bread” I hear my mother carolling from Heaven. “I know, I know”  I grimace, and get out the old-fashioned grater nevertheless and start furiously rubbing it with soft, squishy white slices of Baker’s Delight Low GI. After a few minutes, having taken the skin off a couple of fingers and successfully having turned the slices of bread into one glutinous, impenetrable ball of dough with no resemblance to breadcrumbs whatsoever, I resort to tearing it to pieces manually. That works well. Somewhere, legions of dead relatives chuckle to themselves.

So. Breadcrumbs. Now what?

Leek, mushroom and bacon stuffing – now why didn’t I think of that?

The silence is deafening. I think as calmly as I can while chopping a couple of onions as finely as possible, just like the TV chefs do, except when I turn the onion round to chop in the other direction half of it always skitters off the chopping board, across the benchtop, and down to the dog’s waiting nose, where he lazily opens half of one eye, and ignores it, knowing that a tube of Liverwurst and a pound and a half of only vaguely green chuck steak is probably coming his way later if he doesn’t fill up on discarded onion first.

Breadcrumbs, onions, and …. herbs! Yes, herbs! Then you just bind it all up with some water, and shove it all up the chicken’s arse. Except when I turn to the two hundred and seventy three ex coffee jars which the lady owner of the property has rigorously scrubbed clean so that they can be filled with pulses, dried fruits, Bi-carbonate of soda (what is that for?) and, of course, every kind of herb you can possibly imagine, Dear Reader, it rapidly becomes clear that there is nothing my limited pre-war mind can recognise – no Sage, no Thyme, just a lot of other strange things which I have no idea what they smell like let alone taste like.

Clearly the recent ‘big shop’ expeditions skipped the herb aisle. The hands crawl steadily round the clock as I dance in frustration, daring me to add a pinch of Marjoram, a sprinkling of Cumin, and something brown off which the sticky-taped label has fallen, but which looks and smells alarmingly like dried horse droppings, and for all I know is. I know it shouldn’t have a bay leaf. In the end, into the stuffing mixture goes some Tarragon, because I am sure I remember a recipe for Chicken and Tarragon from somewhere, although I swear I have never cooked with Tarragon before, and some Oregano, because I like it, and some dried Parsley. Pepper and salt to taste. Whoever heard of a chicken stuffing like this?

Cautiously, I give it a smell. And it smells pretty good, actually. Sort of citrusy, somehow, and fresh and interesting. Emboldened, I add the zest of a half a lemon. I am not quite sure why I do this, except when you watch the TV chefs they always “add the zest of half a lemon”, and I’ve never done it before, and if I am ever going to, tonight is the night, right?

And you know what? It smells really good now. And lemon goes with Chicken, as any Chinese person can tell you. So I pop the whole lot into the Chicken, and the Chicken into the oven, and suddenly the whole house is filled with an impenetrable, cloying and rather wonderful miasma of deliciousness, wafting its way into every nook and cranny.

And that’s when I realised that even though Mum has moved on, she had left behind in me something even more valuable than a mental book of recipes, something even more valuable that knowing how to fillet a Dover Sole successfully.

She imbued in me a joy of cooking, the sort of joyous, uninhibited cooking that celebrates life with a dash of this, a slosh of the other, and a whim and a prayer of that. Not to mention a belief that I can solve problems for myself, with just a little application. And some courage. Of course I could have just consulted the internet. But you know what? Sometimes that just seems like cheating.

As I write this, the meal is almost cooked, the night draws in, lowering and menacing, but I am warm in here, thank the good Lord, and soon my lady wife will come through the door, and predictably exclaim “That smells good!” as she always would, whether or not it did. I am going to open a nice Chardonnay to go with the chicken, and hang the expense.

And the damn dog isn’t getting any. So there.

If you’re not feeling as experimental as me, here’s the best recipe I found on stuffing after I made my own. Sausagemeat and roast chestnuts feature in this one. Yum. Maybe next week. This one’s for a turkey, I guess just make less for a chicken.

Sausagemeat stuffing

  1. 75g unsalted butter
  2. 2 tbsp olive oil
  3. 1 onion, finely chopped
  4. 100g fresh white breadcrumbs
  5. 600g sausagemeat
  6. 600g pork mince
  7. Large handful fresh flatleaf parsley, chopped
  8. Small handful fresh sage leaves, chopped
  9. 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  10. 1 large free-range egg

Chestnuts

  1. 50g unsalted butter
  2. 200g peeled and cooked chestnuts (in the UK choose Waitrose fresh, peeled and frozen chestnuts, defrosted)
  3. 100ml fresh turkey or chicken stock
  4. Handful fresh flatleaf parsley, chopped

Method

  1. Make the stuffing first. Heat the butter and olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the onion until soft. Add the breadcrumbs, fry until golden, then leave to cool. In a large bowl, mix together the sausagemeat and pork. Add the breadcrumb mix to the sausagemeat with the remaining ingredients. Season and set aside.
  2. For the chestnuts, melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and, when foaming, add the chestnuts and fry for 5 minutes. Add the stock and cook until it’s almost all absorbed. Season, add the parsley and set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven. Put the turkey in a big roasting tin (keeping the giblets for stock, if you like). Stuff a quarter of the stuffing into the neck end of the turkey (save the rest for the stuffing-filled red onions recipe, and stuffing balls for Boxing Day) and secure the skin with a skewer. Place the chestnuts in the cavity too.
  4. Cook. Eat.

(Okay, I added number 4.)

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Comments
  1. Vanessa says:

    Good for you! Bet it was delicious AND truly appreciated by the lady of the house! BTW, bi-carb soda is for making things rise… like pancakes and banana cake lol 🙂

    Like

  2. OK, I don’t usually crave stuffing in the middle of summer when it’s 1,000,000 degrees outside but this looks delicious. Many thanks to your mom…I’m sure making this makes you miss her.
    =/

    Like

  3. Miles says:

    Yolly, this was fantastic, I really enjoyed reading it. I can empathise on the herb front. The NZ winter has killed off my dill, coriander, mint and almost done for the parsley. Means the only herbs from our garden are rosemary and marjoram, and these I have to carefully shepherd agaisnt my wife’s insistence that it takes half a plant to season one meal….

    Like

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