Grey, grey, grey, rain, drizzle, grey, cloud, grey. And WARM! Today I picked a bagful of mustard spinach, chard, chicory, normal spinach, rocket and mizuna from the allotment, some of which I planted back in March. Extraordinary to think it’s still cropping 9 months later – a major success in my book.
But the prize for MAJOR success goes to my Mum’s cavolo nero, which are bushy, tall and slug-free. A wander around her garden shows that not only are things still cropping, but the first promise of spring-time treats ahead are there if you look.
Mum and Dad Stallard’s kitchen can always be relied on for several things. The first is that the freezer(s) will be brimming with meat, veg, ice-cream, stock, you name it. The second is that the fridge will always contain at least one pot of double cream. The third is that my Dad will recently have made, or will soon be making, a great vat of soup. He is incapable of doing things small and so a few years ago I bought him an enormous soup-making pot, to help his kitchen forays.
In my last post I promised that I’d provide tips for the Christmas stuffing and gravy, to help my friend Sally Russell in her festive hosting. As with the turkey, these aren’t so much recipes as a set of instructions born from years of trial and error. They have at their heart the little bag of goodies found within your turkey: the giblets.
Each year I’ll change the stuffing recipe slightly, maybe adding chestnuts or sauteed celery, or maybe dried cranberries or orange zest. The most important thing is to use the turkey liver, as it adds a rich, pate-like flavour to the stuffing. It tastes a bit like foie gras, but without the ethical issues. I usually make my stuffing on Christmas Eve and use some to stuff the bird but cook the rest separately in a dish.
Christmas Sage and Onion Stuffing
To accompany the roast turkey, serves 10+ as part of a meal.
1 small onion, very finely diced
Liver from the turkey giblets
Butter – enough for frying
1 pack of sausage meat, about 400g (choose free-range if you can)
Sage – small handful, finely diced
Thyme – few sprigs, leaves stripped from the stalks
1 lemon, zest only
Breadcrumbs – I can’t give exact quantities but I usually take a 400g white loaf, let it go stale, crumb it in the food processor, and use most if not all of the result. Any leftovers can be frozen for another day.
Salt and pepper
First we need to get the liver sorted. Take the liver out of the turkey giblet bag, give it a rinse under the tap and remove any obviously hard or fatty bits. Pat it dry with kitchen roll. Get a frying pan nice and hot, add a little butter to the pan and when it’s foaming, add the liver. Fry for a scant minute on each side, until it is just browned, then remove to a plate. Leave to cool then dice into smallish pieces and place in a big mixing bowl.
Now we cook the onion. Use the same pan as your liver, add a little more butter, then add the onions and cook on a low-low-low heat until the onions are soft and translucent, but not brown. Add a pinch of salt to help them on their way. This takes a bit of time – 15 minutes or so – so be patient. When they’re done, add them to the bowl with the turkey liver.
Now add your sausage meat, the diced herbs and lemon zest to the bowl. Give it a good mix – your hands are the best for this, or use a wooden spoon.
We now have a nicely flavoured sausage mix, but to make it into a stuffing we need to add breadcrumbs for an open texture, plus an egg to bind. So: crack the egg directly into the mixture and add a handful of breadcrumbs, and give it a good mix. If it feels too wet, add more breadcrumbs, and keep going until the texture is soft, combined and moist, but not too dry or too loose. Now season it generously with a little bit of salt and quite a lot freshly milled black pepper (the sausagemeat and onions are already salted, so go easy on the salt).
If you want to taste your mixture, fry a little bit in a frying pan, taste, then adjust the seasoning until you’re happy.
Now you can use your stuffing as you need. I usually put a little into the neck of the turkey before it roasts, then pile the rest into a baking dish and cook alongside the potatoes. If you do this, allow about 30 minutes in a 190c oven, and make sure it is entirely cooked through before serving. A skewer inserted into the middle will be hot when pressed against your lip.
Lastly, the gravy. I always make this on the day, but get ahead by making a flavourful stock from the remaining giblets on Christmas Eve. Then all there is to do on Christmas Day is save and de-fat the roasting juices from your cooked turkey, thicken them up, and you’re good to go. This looks complicated but actually is really very easy; it just needs a few well-timed interventions. To make proper gravy, you’ll need either a gravy strainer or a big 1-litre heat-proof jug.
For the stock:
The turkey giblets
1 onion, topped and tailed but you can leave the skin on, provided it’s not caked in mud
1 stick of celery
A few whole peppercorns
The roasting tin itself, from the turkey, with any brown roasted bits left intact
Juices from the cooked turkey
White wine (optional)
Salt and pepper
Sieve for straining the stock
Gravy-strainer or heat-proof jug
The day before, make your stock. Take the turkey neck and heart from the giblets, pop them in a big saucepan, top up with water (about 1 litre) and add the vegetables and pepper. (You can also use the kidneys if you want to, but I find their flavour too strong so they usually end up as pet-food.) Bring the lot to a slow simmer and use a big metal spoon to skim off any foamy dirty bits that come to the top. Pop a lid on, leaving it slightly ajar to allow a bit of steam to escape, and cook on a low heat for an hour or so – it should be just bubbling, not merrily boiling.
When it’s done, strain the liquid into a jug (I use a fine sieve for this) and have a taste – if it’s too weak, put it into a clean saucepan and reduce down for 10 minutes or so. When you think the stock is ready, pop it in the fridge to use later.
On Christmas Day, once the turkey is cooked and put aside to rest, drain any juices from the roasting tray into a big heat-proof jug, or use a gravy strainer if you have one. I prefer to use a jug, as the strainers are usually too small. You may well have a pint or more of liquid, especially if you anointed your bird with lots of butter to begin with and used water in the roasting tray to help things along.
If the roasting tin has any sticky roasted bits in the bottom, deglaze it with a little hot water – really scrape around to get all the good stuff out, then add this to your jug.
Use a metal spoon to skim off the fat from the top of your juices but don’t throw it away! Put it into a small bowl. It’s the basis of the gravy but also will make excellent roast potatoes another day.
Now we make our gravy! Put three tablespoons of the turkey fat in your saucepan, add 2 heaped dessertspoons of flour, and cook on a low heat until the flour turns the lightest golden brown, stirring often with a wooden spoon. This initial cooking of the roux helps give good colour to the gravy.
Add a small splash of wine, if using, and stir stir stir – the mix will seize up into a lump. Now we gradually and gently add our reserved juices and some of the stock, stirring all the time, until we have a smooth gravy.
Bring to a simmer and let it cook for 20 minutes or so, to really cook out any raw flour or wine flavour. Add more liquid if it needs it. Taste and add salt and pepper as you wish, then serve.
If you do get any lumps, try whisking it and if that doesn’t work, just put it through a sieve.
It sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t really. Good luck!