I have always liked cooking turkeys. It doesn’t matter to me if it goes in the oven, in the smoker, on the grill, on a spit, in a pit, in a roaster, or in a deep fryer. I’ve breaded it and cooked it like fried chicken. I’ve cut it into chunks and simmered it. I’ve microwaved it. I cooked one in a solar oven. I cooked one in a reflector system made of aluminum foil and charcoal baskets. I cooked one in a horno (southwest version of a pizza oven). I even cooked one by cutting it into pieces and roasting it over a campfire on hotdog forks.
I also like cooking everything that goes with a turkey, but my favorite side dish is the stuffing. Growing up in Texas, stuffing (or dressing) was quite simple. Some cornbread and/or white bread, butter, sage, salt, and pepper. Mix in some chicken stock, and shove it into the bird before cooking. But I take a different approach. To me, the amount of stuffing that will fit into a turkey will feed one person only; therefore, I cook the stuffing separately and in great quantity. And mine is a little more complex that the stuff(ing) I grew up with.
I believe the stuffing should match the flavor of the turkey. At times I’ve experienced things like a sage rubbed turkey with a fruit stuffing. How about a smoked turkey with oyster jambalaya stuffing? I’ll never forget the barbeque grilled turkey with honey and wild rice stuffing. I ate every one of them, but the flavors were not quite right. I’m not saying turkey and stuffing should be perfectly matched, but they should be very close so the stuffing becomes an extension of the flavor of the turkey.
Here is one of my favorite turkey/stuffing combinations:
Southwestern Turkey with Tamale Stuffing
50 cloves garlic, unpeeled (about 3 to 4 heads)
2 dried ancho chiles, rinsed
1 dried guajillo chiles, rinsed
1 dried negro chile, rinsed
1/2 cup corn oil (prefered) or canola oil
2 teaspoons toasted and ground cumin seeds
1 teaspoon table molasses or honey
1 (18 to 20) pound turkey
2 tablespoons corn oil (prefered) or canola oil
1 3/4 pounds turkey neck, wings, backs, cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon allspice berries
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth, or turkey stock
1/3 cup (approximately) all purpose flour
1/2 cup Chili-Garlic Paste
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth, or turkey stock
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Garlic-Chile Paste: Preheat oven to 350F. Cut a small slit in each clove of garlic and distribute on a baking sheet. Place on center rack in oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until garlic begins to brown. Remove and cool 5 to 10 minutes. Peel garlic and remove hard tips. Measure 1/2 cup of the garlic, reserving any extra pieces. Blend in a food processor to form a rough puree.
In a small cast-iron skillet, toast chiles until blistered and fragrant. Allow to cool, then remove stems and seeds. Tear into pieces and place in a small saucepan with enough water to cover. Simmer over medium-low heat until chiles are soft, about 15 minutes. Add softened chiles and any remaining liquid, oil, cumin, and molasses to garlic in processor. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Turkey: Remove the giblets, and dry the turkey with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to season. Loosen skin of breast by sliding hand or wooden spoon under the skin. Spread about 1/2 cup of the chile paste under the skin. Fill the cavities with stuffing, if desired. (If leaving the turkey unstuffed, place in the main cavity 1 yellow onion, halved, and 1 bunch of cilantro. Place in the neck cavity ½ yellow onion and ½ bunch cilantro.) Rub 2 tablespoons paste all over outside of turkey, and reserve remaining paste for gravy. Tie the legs together and place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan.
Preheat the oven to 325F with the rack in the lowest third of the oven. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cut-up turkey parts (and giblets if using) and the onion. Saute about 15 minutes until brown. Remove the parts to the roasting pan, surrounding the turkey. Add to the roasting pan the celery, tomatoes, allspice, and any remaining garlic. Add 2 cups broth or stock and roast the turkey for 1 1/2 hours. Tent the turkey and pan loosely with heavy aluminum foil and continue to roast until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180F (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours more). During this time, baste the turkey with the pan drippings and the remaining 3 cups of broth or stock. (If the turkey is stuffed, the additional roasting time will be up to 3 hours longer.)
When turkey is finished, remove to a platter or carving board and tent with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes. Reserve the contents of the roasting pan for making the gravy.
Gravy: With a large slotted spoon or tongs, remove turkey parts from pan and discard. Pour mixture in pan into sieve set over large bowl. Press on the solids in sieve to release liquid. Spoon fat from pan juices; add enough broth to juices to measure 6 cups.
Stir 1/2 cup reserved garlic-chili paste in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until liquefied. Add flour and stir 1 minute (mixture will be very thick). Gradually add 6 cups broth mixture, whisking until smooth. Simmer until reduced to 4 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper.
¼ cup butter, divided
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups crumbled cornbread
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried sage
½ cup chopped cilantro
6 jalapeño peppers stemmed, seeded, diced
2 cup frozen roasted corn kernels
2 cup toasted and chopped pecans
8 ounces shredded pepper jack cheese
12 cups turkey or chicken tamales, chopped
4 cups turkey or chicken broth
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large cast-iron skillet, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.
Once cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the cooked onions and garlic to a large bowl. Add to the large bowl the crumbled cornbread, cumin, sage, cilantro, corn kernels, pecans, diced jalapenos, and pepper jack cheese. Stir until well combined. Gently stir in the chopped tamales, and place the stuffing in 2 greased 9x9 baking dishes.
Pour over the turkey or chicken broth over the stuffing and gently stir to combine. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover the baking pans with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes or until top is lightly browned and the edges are crisp.
Note: I use two 9x9 baking dishes rather than one larger baking dish in order to cook the stuffing more evenly. You can use a larger dish, but the edges will be hard and the center very soft. You can also stuff the turkey with this recipe, but I prefer an unstuffed turkey. I think the turkey and stuffing both taste better when cooked separately.
Also: There is a lot of turkey and stuffing here. It can easily serve about 14 to 16 people, but I like larger portions and leftovers if possible.
For the tamales, I like to make my own, but I’m not opposed to buying them. Red Pork tamales are acceptable here, but homemade chicken or turkey tamales are best, especially if the filling includes some Garlic-Chile Paste made according to the turkey recipe above.
I’m not a big gravy eater (other than biscuits and gravy), and sometimes I don’t even bother to make it. Sometimes I just use salsa or pico de gallo. I’ve even used chili. Choose what works best for you.