Alton’s mantra has always been “stuffing is evil.” Heck, he’s even got it written on a sign should he forget. But viewers have written and emailed suggesting that Alton might be wrong
about this, and so Alton has decided to see if stuffing can, maybe, some of the time, be… Good Eats.
The science is important. Alton brings three cooks on set to demonstrate. The first of these carefully cooks his bird to 165°. Sadly, the stuffing inside doesn’t pass 140° so this cook’s prize is a nasty case of food poisoning. The second cooks the bird until the stuffing reaches the right temperature. Predictably, the bird is horribly overcooked. This cook will need dentures to replace the teeth she’ll lose chewing that hemp-like meat. The discouraged third cook departs without even showing Alton his results; Alton guesses that even if he got the temperatures right his stuffing was likely soggy, gooey, or compacted. And none of those are good eats.
Successful stuffing must be: flavorful (or why bother), porous (to absorb poultry juices), done cooking at the same time as the bird and easy to insert into and remove from the bird. It’s a tricky problem, but fortunately, the Tonight Show can help. Alton explains how the various parts of the show are like the parts of a stuffing recipe.
Johnny Carson is the foundation of the show. He adds flavor but wisely does not hog the spotlight. In stuffing aromatic vegetables occupy this role. These usually occur in threes – often a mirepoix
, which Alton speculates is French for “celery, onions and carrots chopped fine.” Alton diverges from this tradition in favor of a Cajun variation that replaces the carrot with green pepper. He chops these vegetables finely, tosses them with some oil and bakes them a bit.
Ed McMahon represents the “bland bulk”. In stuffing this is bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, or other starchy ingredients. Alton uses challah bread. The eggs in this bread make it more resistant to liquids. That keeps the stuffing from becoming mushy. Alton dries and toasts his bread in the oven.
Herbs and spices are like Doc Severinson. They entertainment the palette as Doc entertains Johnny’s guests. Alton likes to keep things simple, so he sticks to dried herbs. These can withstand the oven better than fresh herbs or spices. For this stuffing Alton selects sage and parsley.
Doc’s band sort of holds the show together. Alton employs two eggs in this role. Other recipes use mayonnaise or milk powder for the same job.
The headliner guest always drew most of Johnny’s attention. In Alton’s recipe, it’s the flavor that draws most of the attention. Many recipes are named for their “headliner” ingredient. Alton rehydrates some dried mushrooms.
The second guest often brought animals or cool surprises, and the musical guest brought noise. In a stuffing, these are ingredients that support the main ingredient without overpowering it. Alton selects dried cherries and pecans from the wide array of possibilities. The goal is to select a complementary flavor that does not overwhelm the main flavor.
Now that he has selected his ingredients Alton is ready to build the stuffing. He mixes all the ingredients in a bowl with a little broth and some pepper. As it is now, the stuffing would be hard to get inside the bird and even harder to remove later. To solve this problem Alton uses a flexible cutting board as an impromptu funnel to get the stuffing into a reusable cotton bag. The bag goes inside the bird; juices can seep through the bag’s mesh. Before putting his stuffing into the bird Alton heats it in the microwave. This ensures stuffing and bird will be done cooking at the same time, avoiding the perils seen earlier in the show.
Alton uses two probe thermometers. One goes into the stuffing and the other into a meaty part of the bird, but not touching bone. He monitors the temperatures to ensure both parts reach the 165° temperature at the same time. Then he removes the bird and lets it rest. Carryover heat will complete the cooking.
While the bird cooks Alton recounts the origins of stuffing. In the Middle Ages food was also entertainment and cooks developed various stuffed dishes, some of them elaborate, to keep diners interested and amused. A mouse might be stuffed into a fish, which would go into a chicken. That would go into a turkey or a swan, and then into a pig. The pig might even be stuffed into a cow.
Alton’s bird is ready; both stuffing and meat are the right temperature. Alton slides the bird out of the oven and pulls the bag of stuffing from within the bird. The turkey is allowed to rest while "Thing" takes the stuffing to a server. The verdict is in; this stuffing is... good.
But Alton’s not through with stuffing yet. If vegetables can be stuffed in meat, might meat be stuffed in vegetables? Alton's going to try it with acorn squash.
This time, Johnny is the traditional mirepoix
: celery, carrots and onions chopped fine. Ed is some rice and Doc is a little oregano. The headliner is ground pork and the supporting guests include spinach and pine nuts. Alton partially cooks this stuffing in a skillet before spooning it into cleaned out acorn squash and baking it.
Have we seen the last of the “Stuffing Is Evil” sign? Prepared with care stuffing can indeed be... Good Eats. Share this article with your friends