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H A P P Y T H A N K S G I V I N G
Thanksgiving comes and goes but oyster stuffing for the turkey has been a constant in my life since I first read M.F.K. Fisher’s Consider the Oyster. Not everyone likes oysters but in my humble opinion they add just the right amount of pizzazz to Thanksgiving dinner. An excerpt from Consider the Oyster is presented below for your Thanksgiving enjoyment.
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Excerpt From Consider the Oyster by M.F.K. Fisher
Oyster stuffing, for turkeys naturally, is as American as corn-on-the-cob or steamed coot, as far as Americans know or care. To many families it is a necessary part of Christmas dinner, so that its omission would at once connotate a sure sign of internal disintegration, as if Ma came to church in her corset-cover or Uncle Jim brought his light-o’-love to the children’s picnic.
It would mean financial failure too, to leave out those oysters that not so long ago were brought carefully a thousand miles for the fortunate moneybags in Iowa and Missouri who could boast of them in their holiday stuffings. Not every man could buy them, God knows, even if he wanted to, and a middle westerner was even prouder than a man from Down East to have these shellfish on his feast-day.
Perhaps it is because they were somewhat lacking in their first freshness by the time they reached Peoria; perhaps it was because the people of this land so far from seashores were abashed by shells: whatever the reason, oysters in the Middle West were always cooked … and still are, mostly. And in spite of evidence, turkey stuffing seems primarily a part of that cookery. In it, oysters are used for their flavor, quite simply.
There are many recipes, from New England cookbooks as well as those spotted brown pamplets issued yearly by the Ladies’ Aids and Guild Societies of small towns beyond the Mississippi. All of them agree that it is almost impossible to put too many oysters in a turkey dressing if you are going to put in any at all.
The method of using them differs, of course, so that one rule will say, “Mince ½ dozen thoroughly and sprinkle throughout the crumbs,” and another will command more generously, “Fill cavity of bird with large plump blue points.” A fair medium, however, is the following recipe from Mrs. William Vaughn Moody’s Cook Book.
Dressing for Turkey or Other Fowl with Oysters
1 ½ quarts fine counts
1 quart of lightly fried crumbs
1 quart of oyster juice
salt, pepper, celery salt, and paprika
Wing the oysters. Add the bread crumbs, oyster juice, and seasoning.
I would add, with the Browns in their Country Cook Book, that “Perhaps Oyster stuffing is one of the best, but the crumbs, which are mixed with the oysters and oyster liquor, should be literally soaked in melted butter, as should all crumbs that go into a turkey.” For myself, I also like a cup or more of finely chopped celery stirred in with the crumbs, rather than Mrs. Moody’s celery salt.
There is a recipe in the book of Merle Armitage and his wife cooked up called Fit for a King that is less conventional, but very good for those who don’t want any nonsense about hiding the oysters. It is called, simply enough,
Toast some thin slices of bread until brown and butter them. Lay 2 slices inside the turkey and over them put a good layer of raw oysters seasoned with salt and pepper, lemon juice, and a few pieces of butter. Over this lay two more slices of toast and then a layer of oysters a before. The resulting flavor is delicious.
Between these two recipes there are ten thousand variations, probably, but the general idea of using oysters as a flavoring is no new one to us, any more than it has been for some several thousand years to the Chinese …
Personally, I like to add oysters to a more traditional dressing. I am an instinctual sort of cook. While I use recipes, I often change them depending on my mood and the weather and what’s going on in my mind at the time. I make my turkey stuffing as follows. I cut a mix of breads into small cubes (I prefer a chunky dressing edible in bites rather than a dressing that looks like mush). Next, I dice finely into small pieces celery, onions, and parsley. In a large skillet I sauté the onions then add a couple of jars of fresh oysters coarsely diced and cook with the onions until heated through. I add the celery and parsley. I prefer to use sage, thyme, oregano and lately some epazote to add a Mexican component to the mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. This year at my wife’s suggestion I added a couple of cups of sautéed mixed mushrooms (chantrelles, shitakes, criminis). I also soaked some dry cranberries in a bitt of turkey stock and added them to the mix. Let the concoction cool before stuffing the turkey. I cook the extra stuffing in a flat casserole to get the maximum crunch on top and to cook all ingredients evenly. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.