Here's something for you--I'm a really really good baker. I can make yeast breads and rolls and baguettes and all kinds of things that I'm told can be quite complicated to produce. And yet I've always considered myself a so-so cook, and was very hesitant to tinker with recipes on my own. I think it's because I'm a "J" in Myers-Briggs terminology: a planner, organizer, logical rules follower. That's me. And baking as a cooking discipline goes right along with that. Tinkering and playing around with ingredients? Waaaaay to "P" for me!
And yet I have now reached a point in my character development where I can just abandon recipes and tinker away! And you know what? It's really lots of fun!
So here's how this recipe came to be. I happened to have two 20 pound turkeys in our deep freezer (purchased on sale after Thanksgiving last year), and needed room in said freezer for our 1/4 grassfed cow that came to us last Monday. Why NOT make a turkey in June? I asked myself. Indeed. Why not? I responded. After that sensible exchange, I pulled one of the turkeys out of the freezer and stuck in the fridge to thaw.
But what to do about stuffing? Or, even, dressing (which is what I made)? In case you are not part of my family, stuffing goes inside the turkey and dressing is the same stuff not stuffed (heh). And to make matters more confusing, we often use the word stuffing to mean both ideas. So I'll use stuffing from here on out in this blog post, and it's okay if you think I really made dressing, because I did.
But again (I asked myself), what to do about the stuffing? I don't eat wheat any more, and I seemed to recall that bread is an important ingredient in stuffing. Hmph. My friend Jessica suggested cornbread, as that's at least gluten-free and somewhat more lenient on the digestion, but I try to save my corn-related cheating for Mexican restaurants.
Still, there's something about a turkey that calls for something herby and sort of, I don't know, fluffy? on the side. Or even inside, heh.
I searched around on Cook's Illustrated for some sausage stuffing ideas--and there were a few recipes, but all involved bread or cornbread. One recipe suggested using fennel, and that sounded intriguing. I thought and thought about it some more and decided I'd just try to make up my own recipe.
And. I. Did.
It was really tasty! I'll share what I did here--I know it can be improved upon, but for a first-time, make-it-up-as-you-go-along kind of recipe . . . well let's just say I impressed even myself. :o)
I tried to pay a little bit more attention to amounts and cooking times than I did last time, partly because I was planning to write this up if it tasted any good, and partly because I was worried that I'd forget what I did and then what if it was good and I couldn't remember and wouldn't that be tragic? (That's the "J" part of me talking.)
2 pounds mild breakfast sausage (not patties or links)
1 bulb of fennel
4 oz package of mushrooms (I used a mixed variety package, but you go on and pick your favorite)
3/4 pound of small red potatoes (I used Ruby Gold brand, love these little potatoes!)
1 stick of butter
Bacon grease or lard
1/4 cup (ish) white wine (if you have any left!)
If you don't already have an enormous turkey roasting in your oven, or are planning to prepare this as stuffing-stuffing, preheat the oven to 350. Otherwise, you're good.
Potatoes: Wash the potatoes and chop into bite-sized pieces--I quartered the potatoes I used. Place on shallow roasting pan. Scoop a spoonful or two of bacon grease/lard (so, what's that, a couple of tablespoons?) onto the potatoes and mix around with your hands. The bacon grease will melt a bit and that makes it easier to coat the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (if you have pepper--I don't for some odd reason, so it was salt-only for us).
Roast for about 30 minutes or so, using tongs to move the potatoes around the pan once or twice during the process. This helps them not stick, and tosses them a bit so that all sides get brown and delicious. When the potatoes look brown and delicious, that means they ARE brown and delicious, so take them out of the oven! Set them aside so they cool, taking care to sample some right off the piping hot roasting pan because they are SO good.
While the potatoes are roasting, you can saute the mushrooms and fennel. It didn't occur to me until afterwards, but I think you could saute them both together. Alas.
Mushrooms: Melt half a stick of butter in the skillet over medium (I think) heat. Add the mushrooms, and cook while stirring them around a bit for what, about 5 minutes or so? If you don't like mushroom juice, drain it off and then set the mushrooms to the side.
Fennel: This was literally the first time I've ever even cooked with fennel. See how I'm just throwing all caution to the wind here? The Cook's Illustrated recipe that had fennel in it (found here but I think you might need a subscription) mentioned slicing, coring, and dicing the bulb. Suddenly, I knew something about what to do with a fennel bulb! Woohoo!
So, cut the bulb in half and take out the middle parts. I didn't dice it, and left it in fairly large chunks, partly because I wanted to make it easy for
Melt half a stick of butter in the skillet over medium (I think!) heat. Add the chopped fennel and saute. I was working on the theory that it's kind of like onion, and tried to saute until it was translucent. How long does that take? you might rightly ask. And I will tell you: I have no idea, because just as I put the fennel into the skillet, the turkey finished roasting, so I took the enormous turkey out of the oven, removed the thermometer, covered the bird with foil, burned myself on the thermometer, tended to my wounds with ice water for a while. So figure out how long such a process might take you, add a couple of minutes, and THAT'S how long it takes.
Or, you might just watch to see if it turns translucent. As it happened, I didn't cook the fennel quite as long as I should have. Or maybe I'll dice it more finely next time. Still yummy though.
Set the fennel to the side.
Sausage: Brown the sausage in the skillet, adding a little salt, pepper (if you are the type who ordinarily has black pepper around the house, as opposed to me). As it was nearing the end of the browning process, it smelled to me like it needed more flavor. Fresh tarragon (which I had on hand thanks to a suggestion earlier in the week from Jessica) turned out to be Just The Thing.
Combine: Now here I had all of the ingredients, but still no stuffing. Since the bird was still insanely hot (and my finger was still smarting!) and I wanted the flavors to blend a bit, I decided to toss everything into a casserole dish. Mmmm . . . yummy smells. Before I put the dish into the oven, I added more tarragon, and then, in a moment of inspiration, some Sauvignon Blanc that I just happened to have in the fridge, taking care to reserve a generous dram or two for the chef.
Bake for about 15 minutes, stirring once maybe.
And here it is!
I really liked how it was almost fluffy, just like regular stuffing. I think the flavors went well with the turkey (which I roasted with lemons and thyme, just fyi), and it was Thanksgiving-ish. I think I'll be making versions of this non-carby stuffing forever into the future.
And now that I have this as a base recipe, here are a few things I'd like to try:
- Saute the mushrooms and fennel together, and/or cook the fennel longer.
- Try out different herbs--sage might be nice, or thyme.
- Have pepper in the house.
- Stuff the bird with it--it tastes so delicious with the reduction sauce I made from the turkey drippings that I can't help but think it will taste fantastic if stuffed inside the bird. I dunno how much pre-cooking would need to be done in that case though.
- Think of other things that are paleo-friendly and/or yummy to add. Oooh! Maybe cranberries for Thanksgiving?
If you happen to try this--and sure, I can understand if you wait until, say, November--and make modifications, I'd love to know about it!