Stuffing’s place at our Thanksgiving dinner table has been an evolving one. For my entire childhood, we didn’t have stuffing at all. My mom, who came to this country as a newlywed, figured out how to celebrate all the big American holidays from magazines, TV, and neighbors (must have been funny explaining to us that the Easter bunny hides eggs). We definitely caught on to Tuna Helper and blue box macaroni, so I’m not quite sure why we never gave Stove-Top a whirl.
With the same name as what was inside a certain plush polar bear named “Goldie,” I guessed it would taste like teddy bear innards. Still, those kids sure did seem excited about it in the Stove-Top commercials. Instead, mom always made Chinese “tasty rice,” or Lo Mai Gai (a steamed lotus leaf parcel filled with glutinous rice, Chinese sausage, shitake mushrooms, and other savory morsels).
As Thanksgiving drew near in my first year of college, I was intrigued to see stuffing offered at my dorm cafeteria by the ice cream scoopful. It was dense, shaggy, and almost flesh-colored. It thwomped onto my tray and I could hardly wait to sit down and examine the foreign object. It was warmish with a pasty texture and tasted of soggy chicken-flavored milk bone.
I’m a firm believer that in most cases, people think they don’t like certain foods because they haven’t had them prepared well (usually traceable to a relative who traumatized them with said food). I’ve been able to turn around my husband’s disdain for beets, and my best friend’s hatred of mushrooms successfully. But, having eaten and personally made stuffing many times since the dorms, the jury’s still out. For me, stuffing still struggles to rise above being flavored moistened bread.
This year I wanted to marry the concept with savory bread pudding. Besides the custard-like base, the procedure for making savory bread pudding is very much the same as for stuffing, but the resulting texture and flavor is more refined. As in French toast, there is a certain magic when bread and custard become one, bringing this savory bread pudding a cut way above stuffing. Most bread pudding recipes use equal parts cream and milk in the custard base. The dish is sinfully rich, but too heavy for the overflowing holiday table. A slightly lighter take hits the right notes without being overly filling.
This savory bread pudding would be a wonderful dish to serve at your Thanksgiving meal, and is also excellent as a cozy and fuss-free brunch the next morning topped with an egg. The kale on the surface crisps up in the oven, leaving you with kale chips studding the top. It can be assembled the day before and brought to room temperature before baking, if you wish.
The custard-like base is lightened up with some chicken broth. This preserves the rich flavor and decadent feel of traditional bread pudding, but leaves you with a little more room to indulge in the rest of your holiday spread.
Chestnuts add a slightly sweet note and make the dish extra special (can’t you just hear Bing Crosby crooning “chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”). Buying chestnuts that are already cooked and peeled will save you a lot of time and headache. They can be found at some specialty food retailers, including Trader Joe’s, and Asian markets, such as 99 Ranch market. You can also roast and peel them yourself, if you choose.
When selecting mushrooms, go with a variety of textures and flavors. I chose mild tender oyster mushrooms, bold chewy shitakes, and woodsy crisp maitakes (also called hen of the woods). This is another area where Asian markets are a gold mine. For buying mushrooms, Asian markets have far greater variety and often better quality mushrooms at about 1/3 the price or less than other markets.
Kale stands up to the bold flavors of the dish. I used lacinato kale (a.k.a dinosaur, Tuscan, or black kale), but any kind of kale will do. A quick pan-steam is all it needs to make the leaves tender.
Baelson and I are hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year. That has a nice ring to it! It’s the first Thanksgiving since buying our first house earlier this year, and I can’t wait to pack in the whole family! No doubt, I’ll be especially thankful for the double ovens that came with the kitchen while preparing the feast.
© 2012 by Revel Kitchen. All Rights Reserved.
What are some of your family traditions at Thanksgiving?