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A classic Chestnut Stuffing made with milk crackers, sourdough bread, apples, and of course – chestnuts.
Hi everyone, it’s Jack. Growing up, Thanksgiving turkey served with a traditional Chestnut Stuffing was standard fare at our house.
The night before Thanksgiving, my parents would cook together in the kitchen, starting the preparations for our big Thanksgiving feast – including this Chestnut Stuffing. My mother (aka Nanny) would lay out the ingredients, while my dad handled boiling the neck and gizzards. (I wasn’t a fan of the gizzards.) My dad (aka Grampa) also attached our hand-cranked meat grinder to the edge of the kitchen counter – which is what we used to grind all of the ingredients to make this delicious Chestnut Stuffing.
First, we would all sit around peeling cooked chestnuts until our fingers were scratched and blistered from trying to remove the pesky outer shell. (Today, you can buy some delicious jarred chestnuts that are already cooked and peeled, if you prefer.)
Then, my siblings and I would each get a turn cranking the handle of the meat grinder – grinding all of the stuffing ingredients together. Back then, my parents didn’t really follow a recipe or measure any of the ingredients out – they just knew what to add and knew when they achieved the perfect consistency.
Royal Lunch milk crackers were a must, plus white bread, onions, celery, diced fresh apple, and Bell’s Seasoning plus eggs and the turkey stock from cooking down the neck and giblets. Over the years, as I’ve tried to recreate (and document) the Chestnut Stuffing of my childhood, I’ve swapped in a heartier sourdough bread and I do sometimes buy those jarred chestnuts I mentioned above to save a little time and effort.
Back then, my parents would stuff our turkey* with the Chestnut Stuffing – I remember it was always a very loose texture going in the bird but it came out perfectly cooked in the end.
*Today, cooking stuffing inside a turkey is frowned upon. Putting a warm stuffing into a cold turkey (especially the night before) is asking for trouble – as bacteria will start to grow and everyone will wind up with a stomach ache after eating your Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey and the stuffing each cook at different lengths of time so it only makes sense to cook them apart. Cooking them together, besides the health risk, means that the turkey will be overcooked before the stuffing is ready.
These days, and in today’s recipe, we bake the stuffing outside the bird in a casserole dish and it’s just as delicious. I hope you enjoy this Chestnut Stuffing as much as I do.
You may enjoy these other Thanksgiving Stuffing recipes:
- Maine Potato Stuffing
- Slow Cooker Sourdough Stuffing with Turkey Sausage and Apples
- Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing
- Paul’s Thanksgiving Stuffing
- Cornbread Sausage Stuffing
Optional cooked neck meat and broth, (See Notes below for additional ingredients and steps)
8 tablespoons butter plus more to grease a 9X13 casserole dish
3 cups yellow onion, diced
1 ½ cups celery, diced
1 sweet apple peeled, cored and diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Bell’s All Natural Seasoning
1 16-ounce loaf of sourdough bread, crust removed and cut into one-inch cubes
1 12-ounce box milk crackers (Royal Lunch brand ideally. which is available online here. Some supermarkets sell milk crackers closer to the holidays as well.)
2–4 cups of turkey broth using broth from neck meat if you have it or homemade broth if you have it
4 eggs beaten
1 14.8 ounce jar cooked chestnuts (we bought this brand)
Optional: 2 boneless turkey thighs
If you are using the neck, place in a medium sauce pan on the stove top with some cut up onion, cut up celery, fresh parsley and salt and pepper and water and cook for an hour or so until the neck meat can be removed. Save the broth and neck meat but discard the solids.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and generously butter a 9X13 casserole dish.
Place all 8 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat and once melted, add onions and celery and cook for just three minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the apple, salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Pour half of this mixture into a large mixing bowl and hold on the other half.
Add half of the cubed bread to the bowl.
Crush the milk crackers by hand and add half a box to the large bowl.
Heat two cups of stock and pour into a medium bowl along with the remaining bread, remaining crackers and remaining cooked onion mixture.
You could use a food processor if you don’t own a grinder, but the texture is better ground. We have a food grinder attachment like this for our Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Put the plate with the large holes in place.
Place the large bowl underneath before grinding. Slowly feed the contents of the medium bowl through the grinder until all of the mixture has been ground into the bowl with the other ingredients. Add the cooked neck meat to the grinder if using and grind into the large bowl.
Stir in the beaten eggs.
On a cutting board, coarsely chop the entire jar of chestnuts, leaving some big pieces. Stir this into the large bowl.
At this point, use your judgment to add additional stock if the mixture is too dry. If too wet, stir in some dry bread or bread crumbs until the dressing has the consistency of a very thick batter. It should look really wet but it will firm up as it bakes.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.
When stuffing is cooked in a turkey, it picks up all of the juices from the turkey as it roasts. However stuffing a turkey is not good because the stuffing sits for too long in the bird in the danger zone where bacteria can grow. So to combat dryness, I lay two boneless turkey thighs across the top of the stuffing so the juices from the meat drip down into the stuffing as it cooks. I bought two bone-in turkey thighs from my local supermarket and removed the bones.
After laying the optional thighs over the top, cover with parchment and foil and roast for one hour. After one hour, remove turkey meat, blot up any fat that pooled at the top and roast the stuffing for another 30 minutes uncovered. Use the cooked thighs for some other meal.
Let sit for ten minutes out of the oven to set up then spoon into a serving bowl.
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Before I make this stuffing, I remove the neck from the turkey package and cook it on the stove top for an hour or so with some cut up onion and celery, fresh parsley and salt and pepper. (These ingredients aren’t listed above). I then use that broth and the cooked neck meat in the stuffing. If a turkey wing is available, I add that as well to intensify the broth flavor.
If you happen to have turkey fat, as I did, that can be used in place of a few tablespoons of the butter. I made a stock from a turkey carcass I had in the freezer and after it chilled, I scraped some fat from the top. This is totally optional of course but adds a yummy richness.
To get the right texture, I ground half of the stuffing ingredients and left the other half as is. The mix of the two textures and the finished stuffing texture is what I remember most from my childhood helping my parents make this for Thanksgiving. Then we would all fight over leftover stuffing to make turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwiches on freshly baked Italian bread from our local bakery the next day.