Stuff It

The Kitchen

[voice over, AB is reading letters from fans in
his kitchen while a huge storm brews outside]

    Every week, the same old story: baskets, bags, bushels of letters, all saying the same thing. All with the same complaint: why have I outlawed the one thing that makes people's holidays complete? The one food they love even more than turkey itself ... [close up of the word "stuffing"]
    I don't get it. It's like they don't care. They just don't care that stuffing is bad for the bird that it goes into. Why is that? Why am I talking to you? [cow on the table]
    [moves over to fake chicken] No, it isn't that I don't appreciate the whole stuffing concept. I do. Really. I get that stuffing can provide contrasting flavor and texture, that could soak up cooking juices. And, I mean, let's face it—there are only so many ways to cook a bird, you know? So stuffing can provide a crucial creative outlet. If there was just some way to create a great stuffing without, you know, killing the courier, so to speak.
    I'm willing to admit that I was wrong. That I've been hasty. Maybe I haven't seen the meal for the bird, you know? I mean, maybe if we've got sound science in our minds, good tools in our pockets, and first-rate ingredients in the pantry ... maybe ... possibly ... perhaps stuffing could really be ...

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Average cooks: Cook #1-Caroline, Cook #2-Holly, Cook #3-Mike
              Paul, Commentator

    [the camera pans across 3 chickens with rubber gloves laid next to them] Before we can hope to fix stuffing, we need to quantify it's obvious cons and potential pros. Now to help me do this I will require the services of 3 average American cooks, who will come into this kitchen and prepare their favorite stuffing recipes.

COOKS: [enter with stuffing ingredients and lay them down in front of the birds]

    They will then insert those recipes into average roasting chickens in the 4 to 5 pound range.

AB: Are we ready? Let's glove up, cooks!

COOKS: [dice, slice and peel and stuff their birds accordingly, they then cook them in the oven and finish by standing before cooked birds]

    Well it seems that our contestants have finished their poultry offerings. Why don't we take a look and see if these birds are the bearers of bad news, as I suspect. Contestant number one ...
    Ah, Cornbread Stuffing. Cook number one, Caroline, was careful to cook her chicken to 165 degrees before she pulled it from the oven. A problem is, since it's stuck in the middle of the bird, the stuffing only made it to 140.

CAROLINE: But, but ...
AB: Paul, tell her what she's won.
PAUL: Well AB, since it's likely that bacteria from the chicken's cavity took refuge in the stuffing, cook number one will probably end up with a case of Campylobacter or even salmonella.
AB: So, uh, number one, we've got a full set ... well, half set ... of encyclopedias from circa, I don't know, 1972, to keep you company during those long hours in the loo. Bye-bye!
CAROLINE: [exits with encyclopedias]

    As for chicken number one ... [two men in hazmats suits enter with red flashing lights and warning sirens going off, they bring in a container in which they open, AB throws chicken number one into the container, they slam it shut and exit]
    Cook number two, a more safety-minded sort, was careful to monitor the temperature of her Chestnut Stuffing, which she didn't pull until it reached 175 degrees.

AB: Paul, what do we have for her?
PAUL: AB, we've got a nice pair of dentures to replace all the teeth that cook number two is going to lose when she bites into that parched desert of a bird.
AB: Indeed. There you go. And to go with that, a nice tube of Bob's Gnarly-Grip to keep those in place until you've choked down every last hemp-like fiber. Bye-bye. Bye-bye.
HOLLY: [takes prizes and chicken, leaves]

    And now, cook number three ...

MIKE: [raises his nose, sneers and grabs his bird
     and storms off]

    Well that wasn't very sporting. But you know, I'm willing to bet that cook number three's stuffing was either soggy, gooey or tightly compacted. And none of that qualifies as good eats. And so the shape of the challenge emerges. A successful stuffing must ...

... be flavorful. After all, if it doesn't taste good, there's no reason to have it there. It must be porous. Enough to absorb the juices expressed by the surrounding poultry without turning soggy or becoming impacted. The stuffing must manage to reach a state of doneness at the same time as the bird. This is tantamount and a challenge. Lastly, the ideal stuffing would be easy to insert and extract. Now based on what we know about poultry, what we know about heat transfer, quantum physics, nuclear science and what-not, we should be able to come up with a good working formula for stuff-erage.

     AS BIRD

The Tonight Show Set Model / Kitchen

    The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson represents not only the pinnacle of American late-night television, but the ideal stuffing. Just bear with me a second. You'll see. Now Johnny Carson himself was the foundation flavor on which the show was built, right? But unlike most 21st-Century chat hosts, Johnny never hogged the spotlight. Now in a stuffing, this is exactly what we want from aromatic vegetables.

Johnny Carson
Flavorful Foundation

The Kitchen

    Aromatic vegetables usually travel in threes, okay? The combination of onion, celery and carrot, that the French call mire poix, is probably the most famous. But when it comes to poultry, I prefer the Cajun cousin called "Trinity", wherein the carrot is replaced by green pepper. Now in this case, we're going to need 1 cup of each chopped very very fine. Now when you get that finished, we'll toss with 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil and 1 Tablespoon of Kosher salt. Ow! [pretends he cut his finger, points and laughs] Heh! Heh! Heh! Heh! Heh! Heh!

1 cup each chopped onion, chopped celery & chopped green pepper.
    Roast them in a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes. Now what about Ed? 400°
For 35 Minutes

The 1st century foodie Apicius wrote of Romans
stuffing everything from chicken to deer.

The Tonight Show Set Model / Kitchen

    Ed McMahon laughed on cue, said things like, "Yes!", but mostly he just provided bland bulk ...

Ed McMahon
Bland Bulk

The Kitchen

... just like the bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, or other porous, starchy goods that make up most of the stuffing's volume. Now in this case we're going to go with 3 cups of challah, or hallah bread, cut into half-inch cubes. Why challah? Well since it's an egg-based bread, it's a lot less likely than other breads to turn into goo when exposed to liquids.

[AB's lazy Suzan seems to contain small potatoes, rice, corn, challah, macaroni and cheese and couscous or soup pasta]

3 Cups Challah Bread Cubed

    Since a bit of browning would definitely up the flavor quotient on this bread and drying the cubes would make them thirsty for what the bird has to offer, we'll park them in here with the veggies for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Bye-bye.

Challah was originally baked by Jewish families in honor of the Sabbath.

The Tonight Show Set Model / Kitchen

    Just as the Carson Show would have lacked verve without the flamboyant style of bandleader Dock Severinsen, so would stuffing be without ...

Doc Severinsen
Spicy Excitement

The Kitchen

... herbs and spices. Now although there are plenty of recipes out there that call for both herbs and spices, I like to keep my stuffing simple. And since it cooks for so long, I actually prefer dried herbs. So I'm going to go with 2 teaspoons of dried, rubbed sage and 2 teaspoons of dried parsley. Of course home-dried parsley would be better, but that's another show.

[AB's lazy Suzan contains 10 dried herbs and about 4 fresh herbs]

2 tsp. Dried Rubbed Sage
2 tsp. Dried Parsley

The Tonight Show Set Model / Kitchen

    That leaves the band, whose members really tied the show together. Bounded, you might say. Well a stuffing needs a binder, too. Something to hold the wet and dry goods together.

The Band

The Kitchen

    Although I've seen everything from milk powder to mayonnaise used, nothing binds like coagulating proteins suspended in a liquid base. And that spells [eggs]; two of them will do the trick. Now let's turn to the guests.


The Tonight Show Set Model / Kitchen

GUEST: Ed McMahon, Bland Bulk

    On "The Tonight Show", the first guest was always a big A-list star, onto which Johnny would lavish most of his attention.

The Guest
Star Ingredient

ED MCMAHON: Yes! Ha ha ha.
AB: Now in stuffing, this is the lead ingredient. The one the stuffing is usually named for.

The Kitchen

    As you can see, there are a heap of possibilities. My favorite, dry mushrooms: small, tasty and porous is he. Be they porcini, morel or shitake mushrooms, a mere 2 ounces of these little guys will bring plenty of meaty goodness to the party. All you have to do is de-mummify them with a little hot water or chicken broth. We're just going to let these soak for about half an hour, give or take a few minutes. And now, back to the show.

[AB's lazy Suzan seems to have pine nuts, mushrooms, black and golden raisins, dried cherries, pecans and a few others]

2 Ounces Dried Mushrooms
1 Quart Boiling Chicken

The Tonight Show Set Model / Kitchen

    Johnny's second guest usually brought some cool animals, or technological marvels. And then there a musical guest who brought, well, noise and big hair. Now in the stuffing world, both of these would be surprises, ingredients that support the main ingredient, and yet retain their own unique flavor and texture.

[AB's lazy Susan seems to be the same one as the Star Ingredient one above]

2nd Guest & Musical Guest

The Kitchen

    Let's say 4 ounces of dried cherries and, say, 2 ounces of pecans.

4 Ounces Unsweetened
     Dried Cherries
2 Ounces pecans

    I love the smell of cooked celery in the morning. It smells like Thanksgiving. [removes the pan from the oven]

[AB puts all of the ingredients in a bowl and then mixes them up with his hands]

Combine cherries, pecans, mushrooms, beaten eggs, sage, parsley, vegetable-bread mixture, chicken broth and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper.

    Seeing as how this is a wet mass, the microwave would seem to be the perfect place to heat it. And yet, this is also an amorphous mass, which leads you to wonder, would you want to spoon 200 degree stuffing through that [turkey cavity] hole? I mean even if you could get a spoon in there, you'd expose the stuffing to the air. That would cool it down. And that would just defeat the whole purpose for heating this in the first place. No, we need some kind of containment unit. We need a ... Hey. Wait a minute.
    Now what we need is a sack of some type. [begins looking through his kitchen drawers] Not there. No. No. Oh, here we go. I got these cotton bags to wean myself off of plastic produce bags. They're washable, porous and all-natural. You can get them from health food stores or from the internet. Sorry. Just type "reusable cotton bag" into the search engine of your choice. Let's load, shall we?
    Obviously getting all of this into that little bag could be difficult, so we will employ our flexible cutting mat. Just roll it into a tube and deliver thusly. There. Nice and tidy. Now you'll notice that the bag is only about half-full, and that's good because the stuffing is going to expand in the bird.
    Put the bag in a bowl and the bowl in your microwave, and cook on high for 6 minutes. In the meantime, make sure your oven is set to 400 degrees so that it's ready to receive the entire poultry stuffing package. Because when this comes out we're not going to want to waste any time.

The word dressing was introduced in Victorian England,
when the term stuffing was thought to be improper.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    [performs this next step in a surgicalmanner] The implant is ready. The patient has been prepped. Let us begin. First, the spreader [flexible cutting mat]. Then we carefully remove the hot stuffing to the spreader and mold it into a tube-like shape. Then we insert the spreader into the recipient and then carefully plunge with tongs. Then we extract the spreading device and the stuffing is in place.
    Now under ordinary home circumstances I would monitor the thermal progress of this situation with occasional visits of an instant-read thermometer, but in this case I'm actually going to implant 2 probe thermometers so that we might watch from the outside. So here we go. Thermometer probe 1 goes into the stuffing thusly. Thermometer probe number two we will insert into the thigh meat. There we go.

THING: [pops up and mops AB's head with a small towel]
AB: Thank you. Thank you, that's enough.

There, all done. Now to the oven.
    In an attempt to do thermal justice to bird and stuffing alike, we are going to roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350 degrees, and continue cooking until both the stuffing and the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees. That's what we're looking to do. We want the 2 things to hit that temperature as close to the same time as possible. Now for those of you who would say, "Hey, he's not doing the turkey the way he usually does the turkey." Well, all I can say is stuffing changes everything. Now all we can do is wait.

Turducken is a chicken cooked in a duck, cooked in a turkey.

    I think I figured out why Americans love stuffing so much. Just bear with me a second. Now cooks that used to work in the big castles and noble houses of 16th-century France, were expected not only to feed their bosses, but to entertain them. Now one of the devices that they employed to do this was "the farce". Now in a farce, a mouse might very well be stuffed inside a fish, and then that fish might get stuffed into, let's say a duck, and then the duck into a turkey—or probably a swan more likely—and then that might go into a pig. And then the pig would go into a cow or a horse, and on, and on, and on.

    Now here's the cool part: "farce" comes from "farcir", which means "to stuff", but the reference is actually a knowing nod to a kind of short play called a farce, because it was meant to be stuffed between the acts of a long, boring play. Now the plot of a farce depended on skillfully exploited situations and gags rather than actual character development. So when you think about it, stuffing gave birth to the most adored of all American art forms: the sitcom. Just think about it. It makes perfect sense.
    Well, it certainly looks promising. Let's check our temps. Ha! Ha! Ha! By Jove, I do think we're on to something here. Almost hit the same temperatures at the same time. That's good. Definitely time to get this guy out. And we'll let carryover do what carryover does.
    Now remember, there could be some steam built up behind the bag or inside the bag so keep your hands out of the way, okay? [takes the bag out and wraps it up in a towel like a newborn baby] Wow, our first success. Isn't it beautiful? Okay, it's not beautiful, but it will taste good.

AB: Thing, let's get that into a service piece, okay? [tosses it off screen]

    In the meantime we will let our turkey have a well-deserved rest under a nice layer of aluminum foil.

AB: [to the turkey] You did good.

Allowing the turkey to rest at least 15 to 20 minutes
before carving, makes for a juicier bird.

The Kitchen

    [tasting the stuffing] Mmm. You know, I'd have to say that ... [a sign pops into view with "Stuffing Is Evil" written on it] ... nope. I can't say stuffing is evil anymore. In fact, this stuffing is good. It's good. It's good stuffing. And you know what? If we can stuff vegetables into meat, then what's to stop us from stuffing meat into a vegetable, such as this acorn squash. Size looks good. Let's check it on the inside. [slices a small section of ff the bottom for stability, cuts 1/4 off the top, scoops out the seeds]

    Well, would you look at that? So let's just set our oven to 400 degrees, and see what's on tonight's show.


    Okay. Tonight, Ed McMahon will be played by 1-and-a-half cups of cooked rice. Doc Severinsen is still the herbage at 1-and-one-half teaspoons of dried oregano. The headliner guest of the evening: one-half pound of ground pork. The second guest is 10 ounces of frozen spinach, thawed and drained, of course. The musical guest? Half a cup of pine nuts, toasted, please. As for the band, well, we don't need eggs in this one but we could use some binder in the form of half a cup of white wine. Ironic, don't you think? And Johnny? Well, Johnny's not the same, either. Instead of being the traditional trinity, he is now a traditional mire poix containing one quarter of a cup each, chopped onion, chopped celery and chopped carrot. And unlike our last stuffing, this one gets cooked.

1 1/2 Cups Cooked Rice
1 1/2 tsp. Dried Oregano
1/2 Pound Ground Pork
10 Ounces Frozen Spinach
    Thawed, Drained &
1/2 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts
1/2 Cup White Wine
1/4 Cup Each
    Chopped Onion
    Chopped Celery
    Chopped Carrots

    Place your largest skillet or fry pan over medium heat and cook the pork just until it loses its pink color. Then move it off of the heat and into a small bowl. Then return the pan to the heat. Add the olive oil, followed by the carrots, celery, onions and a pinch of salt. Let that cook over slightly lower heat, just until they are softened.

1 Tbs. Olive Oil

    Then deglaze with the white wine and add the rest of the ingredients, starting with the spinach, and then following up with the rice, then the oregano. The pork comes back into the pan along with the pine nuts. Now stir that just until it's heated through, and then crank on black pepper to taste. And that is your stuffing.

    Now it's stuffing time, but first, a little surprise. A half tablespoon of butter goes in the bottom of each cup. There. Believe it or not, that will help to cook the flesh of the squash, as well as to provide a little extra steam for the stuffing.

1/2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
    Per Squash

    Now speaking of the stuffing, we don't want to pack it in tight. Just spoon it in and let it settle under its own weight. If you pack it tight, when it expands, things are going to get really nasty. There. Now the tops go on. If they stand up a little bit on a mound of stuffing, don't worry. They'll settle as they cook.
    And into the middle of a 400 degree oven. There. Now just let these cook for 1 hour or until the fleshy walls of the squash are just fork tender. You don't want them mushy, okay?

Squash is thought to be one of the first foods
cultivated by Native American Indians.

The Tonight Show Set Model / Kitchen

    Well, I hope you've enjoyed what for me has been a rather humiliating experience. No, not because I've been reduced to playing with dolls, but because I have to admit that stuffing, in and of itself, as a concept, is not evil. In fact, in the right hands, it can actually be good eats.

ED MCMAHON: You are correct, sir.
AB: See you next time.
AB: Will you be quiet?
ED MCMAHON: That is the straight stuff. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Transcribed by Mike DiRuscio

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010