‘Valeryn Monroe’ turkey stuffing

Thursday 8 December

It has taken me two weeks to accept all that went wrong with my Thanksgiving meal. Don’t misunderstand, it was a very fun evening, with old friends with whom we’ve celebrated often, and new close friends too.

So I will try not to dwell too long on the — culinary — disappointments. But, the turkey was much too … big. I prayed it would fit in the oven. It did, though barely, firmly wedged against the oven walls on either side, and then, somewhat inexplicably, cooked so fast that it was barely rescued from the dismal precipice of looming dryness. The gravy was a bit of a disaster and I will ascribe that to my stubborn reluctance towards gravy in general. The vegetables — overcooked. Perhaps we were having too much of a good time in the kitchen. The celeriac mash, often an astonishing highlight, lacked depth. Thomas refused to add more potatoes ! He berates me for not delegating enough in the kitchen and then he doesn’t follow instructions !!

But there were highlights, too. The cranberry lime sauce that electrifies the plate. The many cakes, which were delicious (plus another walnut cake on which more later).

And then there was the stuffing.

It was amazing.

Neither the name (a combination of me and Marilyn Monroe. Ha!) nor the idea are mine. Each fourth Thursday of November messages swish across borders and continents with the friends with whom we have celebrated over the years. A barely nostalgic, wonderfully sappy love fest of Thanksgiving greetings and recollections.

Last year I received this message:

“We made a ‘Valeryn Monroe’ stuffing — a hybrid of your Apple-Chestnut-Bacon recipe, with some ingredients from the Marilyn Monroe stuffing: liver, chopped celery and spices. A nice fusion.”

Understatement.

What a genius idea, I took note and kept it in mind for this time. I searched for Marilyn Monroe’s stuffing recipe (?!), incidentally also a good story, and followed my friend’s suggestion for the mash-up. It solves any weaknesses my traditional stuffing might have had: namely its want of celery, and offal.

This version is so great, it will certainly become the standard.

And so we concentrate on the good things.

I will be making duck for Christmas, but should you be planning turkey, this stuffing is, unequivocally, the best.

Valeryn Monroe’ stuffing

Olive oil or, ideally, duck fat
200g pancetta, ideally sliced paper thin
4 to 5 red onions, sliced into half moons
4 to 5 stalks of celery (reserve the leaves), sliced into 3-4 cm pieces
4 to 5 tart apples, peeled, quartered, and each quarter cut in half crosswise
400g cooked chestnuts
Liver from the turkey (or about 75g to 100g chicken livers)
Large bunch of parsley, washed and leaves plucked
Sage leaves, washed, stalks removed
A good handful of leaves from the celery stalks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp mace (not essential but a nice touch)

A large, heavy cast-iron skillet (frying pan) is ideal to prepare the stuffing though any large skillet will do.

Heat a little olive oil (or duck fat) in the skillet and cook the thin slices of pancetta in batches until just crispy. Remove from the skillet (leaving the fat!) and set on a paper-towel lined plate.

Add a little oil/duck fat if necessary and cook the sliced onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and turning golden at the edges. Season with a good pinch of salt. Remove from the skillet and put them into a large bowl.

Add a little more oil/duck fat and cook the celery, stirring regularly, until it starts to soften. Season with a pinch of salt and add to the bowl of onions.

Again, add some oil/duck fat and cook the apples, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned on more than one side. Remove from the skillet and add them to the bowl.

Same thing for the chestnuts: add a little oil/fat in the skillet and brown the chestnuts (which are already cooked), until they become a little crispy. Crumble the chestnuts, creating bits of different sizes, and add those to the bowl too.

Finally, add some fat and cook the liver(s). This goes very fast, it should remain just pink inside.

On a cutting board, chop up the liver and the bacon, and add it to the bowl.

Now chop the herbs: the parsley, sage, and celery leaves.

Gently mix together all the ingredients in the bowl, ideally by hand. Add some salt, pepper, and the mace if using. Mix again.

The stuffing is now ready to go into the cavity of the bird.

[Instructions and cooking times for the bird can be found here.]

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