Cornbread stuffing

Andreae Prozesky chickens right out.

As the dark days close in, as the frigid north Atlantic winds find their steely way down the backs of necks and up coat sleeves, as the pre-holiday madness fills up calendars and drives the citizenry to distraction, there’s one thing that can make it all right.

That thing is a nice dinner of roast chicken.

Unless you’re a vegetarian, of course. Then it’s a nice dinner of roast squash. Don’t worry, I’ll get to that at the end.

Around the Food Nerd labs, we roast a chicken about once a week. It’s a pretty cheap and satisfying meal, especially if you manage to snag your chickens when they’re two for the price of one. The two-for-one local chicken phenomenon happens at all the major grocery shops in town, and it seems to follow some kind of pattern, but I can’t tell what that pattern is. I suppose I could ask someone over at Country Ribbon or wherever, but that would take the mystery right out of it. And then where would I be?

A lot of people seem to think of roast chicken as a time-consuming, we’re-having-people-in kind of thing. Roasting anything has a bit of a Sunday-dinner-ish-ness to it, yes, but really, there’s no work involved. You chuck the salt-and-peppered chicken into the oven, walk away for a while, then remove it from the oven and dig in. Mash some potatoes, steam some greens, and you’re rockin’ your dinner in a most homestyley fashion.

An unstuffed chicken is plenty functional, but I tend to fancy it up a bit. Last month, for instance, I made a miraculous discovery. For the first time, I experienced the joy of cornbread stuffing. I had read plenty of recipes for it, but I had never actually made it, or even tasted it. Oh how my life has been wasted!

I have a horrible habit of making cornbread and then only eating half of it. My favourite cornbread recipe doesn’t divide well, so doing a half batch doesn’t work, and it’s not nearly as good the next day as it is when it’s just out of the oven. So I end up tossing out half-batches of cornbread, or sticking them in the freezer so I can throw them out eight months later, all dried up and freezer-burnt and sad.
Throwing away food hurts my soul, especially food made with wholesome ingredients in my very own kitchen. It seems so ungrateful. Times being what they are, with the global economic downturn and all, I’m in full waste not, want not mode. So I looked up some recipes, tweaked a little, meddled a bit, and now, several chickens later, I’m a convert to the cornbread stuffing way of life. It’s tasty, it’s got textural oomph, and the gold colour looks gorgeous against the brown tones of the chicken.

One other thing I’ve learned to do when roasting a chicken is to crank up the heat. For some reason, probably due to my lifetime of muffin- and cake-makery, I cook just about everything at 350F. It’s my go-to oven temperature. But a chicken wants to be thrown in there at a good 450F, or even 475F if your oven is clean enough to go that high without setting off the smoke alarm. Mine is only ever that clean for about one week a year, but maybe you’re a more disciplined oven cleaner than I.

A chicken roasted at a nice high temperature will yield a crispy bronze skin and plenty of nice brown sticky bits on the bottom of the pan should you choose to make gravy. I don’t usually bother, but I should, given my waste not, want not campaign. One should never be wanting for gravy, and those sticky brown bits are so very, very tasty.

Chickens don’t need regular basting like turkeys do, although when I’m roasting a chicken I do usually pull it out partway through and spoon a bit of the fat from the pan over the top of the chicken, just because I like doing it. There are times when I don’t bother, or when I’m too busy, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference in the end. An average-sized chicken, well stuffed, takes 45-60 minutes to roast in a 450F oven; you can check doneness by piercing the thickest part of the breast with a sharp knife. If the juices run clear, it’s dinner time.

I’ve included the cornbread stuffing recipe below. If you’re a vegetarian, try using this stuffing to fill a nice winter squash: cut the squash in two, scoop out the seeds, heap in the stuffing, and roast the halves at 400F for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the flesh can be easily pierced with a knife. You’ll likely want to leave out the bacon too, and I would suggest putting in a handful of pan-toasted, coarsely chopped hazelnuts in its place. Sauté your onions and apple in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in lieu of bacon fat.

Cornbread stuffing

Makes enough for two average-sized chickens, or six acorn squash halves.

2 strips of bacon, chopped
one small onion, finely diced
one apple, diced
¼ cup butter
3 cups crumbled cornbread*
1 ½ teaspoons Mt. Scio savoury
½ teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F

In a large pan, cook bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove bacon to a large bowl. Cook the onions on the bacon fat until translucent, about 5 minutes (if this grosses you out, remove the bacon fat and use olive oil). Add the apples and cook, stirring, another two minutes. Add butter to melt.

Add the crumbled cornbread to the bowl with the bacon. Pour the onion-butter mixture over top and stir to combine. Mix in savoury, salt and pepper.

Extra stuffing can be saved for future chickens, but make sure you keep it in the freezer, not the fridge. If the spoon you were using to stuff the chicken went back and forth between the chicken and the bowl you want to be careful of food poisoning.

*If you don’t have a good cornbread recipe on hand, you can use the recipe for berry muffins with quinoa and cornmeal I wrote on a few months back. Just leave out the berries, and swap the honey for one tablespoon of sugar. Bake the batter in a square pan about 35 minutes. You can find that recipe here.

Send your questions, comments, and suggestions in lieu of bacon fat to dreae@thescope.ca

Photo by thebittenword.com

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