Friday, December 23, 2016

Cooking: JiliK's Pork, Onion and Apple Stuffing

With Christmas now an inevitability, I'll shortly be whipping up another batch of the stuffing I've been perfecting over the last few years, ever since I overthrew the stodgy bread and onion stuffing that had been a mainstay at our family's Christmas dinner since the 90's. This is a much more flavoursome, meaty and moist stuffing, one that tastes great cooked separate from the turkey, which is a huge bonus because goodness knows, there's no way I'm getting elbow deep into that thing. :D

Here's what you'll need:
  • 5 large onions
  • 5 bramley apples
  • 5 large sticks of celery
  • 700g pork sausage meat
  • 550g breadcrumbs approx.
  • A handful each of fresh parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage OR 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons dried mixed herbs
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Sorry about the quality of some of these photos. These are all basically spy pics snuggled out of the kitchen while nobody was looking. With it being Christmas, there are inevitably family members hovering around any time I'm making this - ones whose very minds would shattered by the concept someone hunching over food, carefully taking pictures to post on the internet. :D

1. So, first up, dice your onions and celery, making sure to top and tail everything and to peel the skin, and  any tough outer layers off the onions. You don't have to dice these super finely. Not where this recipe is headed anyway.

2. Next, take a generous chunk of butter and melt it in your pan. I'm using pure, salted butter here (the kind you get in 1lb/454g blocks, at least in in Ireland), probably about 2 tablespoons (hey, I never said this would be healthy :D). Any type of butter (or oil) should do the job okay though, but you'll probably need to add some more salt later.

3. Add your diced onions and celery to the pan and soften them over a low to medium heat, stirring regularly. You don't want them to get burned, or even browned if you can avoid it, just soft.

4. Once your veggies are soft, take them out of the pan and set them aside for the moment

5. Next, peel and dice up the apples. Add another 2 tablespoons of butter or so to the pan and let it melt.; then add the apples. Again, cook them over a low to medium heat until they're soft, stirring regularly.

 Pre-chopped. I'm using my own herbs from the garden here. The sage (bottom) I've actually had in the freezer since the summer. Come December, sage leaves are hard to come by but I find this is an okay workaround.

6. If you're using fresh herbs, before you take the apples out, chop up your herbs finely, stripping the rosemary and thyme from their stems before you start. Then add them to the pan with the apples and let them cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.

7. Take your apples out of the pan and set them aside for the moment. Now, add another well, let's say tablespoon of butter this time (the sausage meat will be fatty already so you won't need as much), let that melt and add the sausage meat to the pan.

Tee he!

8. Cook the sausage meat through over a low to medium heat once again, stirring more regularly this time because it'll burn faster than either than the apples or veg.

9. When the sausage meat is cooked, take it out of the pan and set it aside too. It's time to bring everything together...
10. In a large bowl, add the breadcrumbs. (If you can't get hold of pre-made breadcrumbs, you can always make your own by sticking some bread in a food processor. I usually make them with just white bread, but I have used some brown bread before, even some soda bread.)

11. With a food processor or hand blender, blend the celery and onion, and the apple, either separately or together (it doesn't really matter) until smooth (Or mostly smooth at least. A few whole larger bits here and there won't matter). When your done, add all the blended fruit and veg to the bowl with the breadcrumbs.

12, Next, blend the sausage meat until it's as smooth as you can get it (which won't be very) and add that to the bowl too. Blending this stuff will get all those flavours evenly distributed through the stuffing when you mix it later, and give you a moist stuffing that isn't too greasy, or too inside of a turkey-ey. (I'm really not sure how this would turn out if you actually did use it to stuff something. I wouldn't recommend it. Then again, maybe it would be great. I have no idea.)

13. Now add your seasoning to the bowl: the dried mixed herb mix, if you're using that (start off with 1 tablespoon); a good grind of black pepper; and half a teaspoon of salt or so.

14. Finally it's time to mix everything together, thoroughly. I find the best way of doing this is getting your hands in there and combining the mixture by grabbing fistfuls of it and squeezing it together, but a big serving spoon should do the trick too. Keep going until you have a uniform mixture. If you find it's too moist at this stage, you can always add an extra fistful of breadcrumbs. Exercise caution here though. If you add a lot of extra breadcrumb to the mix, you'll really dilute the flavour of the stuffing and there's kind of no turning back from that once you do.

15. Now, maybe the most important bit: give your stuffing a taste. Everything in here is cooked already, so the likes of food poisoning shouldn't be a problem. If you think it needs more salt or pepper, add them, mix it up again and have another taste. If you find it's not quite herbey enough, you can some more here too. Careful not to go too far overboard with the herbs though; add one or two teaspoons at the time, mix it up, then taste it again to see if that did the trick.

16, And that's the stuffing made. For convenience sake, I always make it at least a day in advance and store it in a bowl, covered in cling film in the fridge. To cook it, put it in a dish or tin in the oven, cover it with foil and put it onto a moderate heat until it's piping hot throughout. I usually give it a stir at least once while it's cooking.

As for greasing the dish beforehand, I've never done it and it hasn't stuck on me so far. I am using a silicon dish though which might help, If you're using more traditional cookware, maybe you'd want to grease it at least the first time to see how it turns out.


Optional Extra: You can, if you want, add chestnuts to the stuffing too. I gave it a try one year:

You'll need to cook them first (by boiling them),..

..then peel them (which is a huge pain in the ass :D),..

..and finally, blend them before adding them to the mix.

I didn't really feel they added much for all the effort, buy hey, if you're a big chestnut fan...

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