Little ruby hold-overs from summer…
The one part of Thanksgiving dinner I refuse to make from scratch is the stuffing. I don’t know why, but no stuffing has ever lived up to the Stove-top brand blend my mom puts together: one box of turkey stuffing, one box of cornbread stuffing, mixed up and tossed together and then, rather than just stirred into boiling water, baked in a casserole dish for twenty minutes or so right before serving, so the top is crusty and crunchy. This is easy to do, since it takes my dad at least twenty minutes to get the turkey carved. This is smart to do because it makes a texture contrast and provides a gravy sponge. Other stuffing mixes I’ve tasted, and the homemade one I attempted this past year for A., who doesn’t like celery (have you ever tried to find a stuffing mix without celery? Impossible!), just haven’t measured up.
“26. Chop corn bread into cubes. Sauté cherry tomatoes, scallions and corn kernels in butter or oil. Deglaze the pan with beer, then empty the pan over the corn bread. Bake in an oiled dish or use as stuffing.”
You guys, this was amazing. And given how you now know I feel about stuffing, that’s saying something. Amazing. Here’s what I used:
6 cups (roughly) corn bread cubes, toasted (use your favorite recipe)
4 TB butter
6-8 beefy green onions
1 pint red cherry tomatoes, rinsed and dried
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (if frozen, defrost it first)
Salt and pepper
12 oz. beer (I used Drifter)
I made a pan of cornbread from my favorite recipe in a larger pan than usual; I thought this would result in a slightly drier bread, so it wouldn’t become mushy when the liquid was poured over it. The cornbread was still pretty moist and springy, though, so after it had cooled for a while I cubed it, scuffed it around in the pan a bit to separate the clinging pieces, and tossed it back in the oven at 400F for fifteen minutes or so to get some toasty edges and dark golden spots on it, then set it aside to cool completely. This worked beautifully and I’d recommend it, especially if your cornbread is moist and cakey.
While the oven was occupied by an herb-stuffed chicken (again, I know. I can’t help it), I melted the butter in a skillet over medium heat and sliced the green onions, using the white and green portions. I tossed these little rings into the sizzling butter along with the corn, and agitated them gently. When the onions were soft and the corn just beginning to caramelize, I added the cherry tomatoes and seasoned the whole skillet with salt and pepper and, on a whim, a few shakes of garlic powder.
I turned the heat up to medium high for just a few minutes until the cherry tomatoes started to burst through their skins, spilling pulp into the mix, and the corn had browned delightfully, leaving the kitchen smelling like summer.
I then switched off the heat and poured in a full bottle of beer, nutty, yeasty, and brown (Drifter is a pale ale, so it has some body and depth – I wouldn’t go any lighter than pale ale, and might in fact prefer something darker: a brown ale like Newcastle, or even a porter if it’s not too strong). The aroma changed from summer to fall harvest in an instant as the beer fizzed over the vegetables.
After scraping the bottom of the skillet gently with a spatula to remove any persistent browned bits, I poured the whole steaming bubbling mass over my pan of cornbread cubes and tossed gently to distribute the liquid evenly. Then I stowed the pan in the oven: 350F for 25-30 minutes until the top is deeply golden and just crunchy.
We ate this with roasted chicken and creamed spinach. Vegetarians shield your eyes, but the chicken just collapsed so beautifully across my carving board that I felt I had to show you:
But the stuffing! The stuffing was incredible. The cornbread soaked up the beer, and the sweetness of the bread plus the sourness of the ale created this yeasty glory I couldn’t stop eating. And I don’t like beer. It was just such a perfect liquid for this dish, contributing just the right amount of malty bitterness. The tomatoes got richer and sweeter in the oven, as did the corn kernels, and they partnered with the green onions to make such a good accompaniment to the cornbread that I’m almost tempted to add them into the batter in my next pan. Or maybe into a compound butter to spread on top. That would be better, texture-wise. Green onions, cherry tomatoes, and corn: three musketeers.
This stuffing was gone in two days. With only two of us eating. It was that good. If you’re in the Northwest, where Spring is shunning us, make this now while you still need your oven to keep warm. Accompanying some baked sweet potatoes and leafy greens, this becomes a vegetarian meal. If you use oil instead of butter and have a good egg replacement, it could be vegan. If your cornbread is free of wheat flour and you use gluten-free beer, it could be gluten-free as well. However you make it, make it. This one is too good not to try.