Probably every family has a beloved turkey stuffing - and from what I have read, some of those recipes go to the grave with their creators. I am rescuing our family's dressing recipe from that fate. I don't know if anyone outside of my family will ever make this. Readers will see that I have shared some notes re the research that went into recreating this.
Christmas 2016 was the first time I attempted this family classic / tradition. It was always much enjoyed, but for a time it disappeared from the menu, and was very much missed. It used to be my favourite post-xmas snack - I liked nibbling on it more than leftover turkey. It was made first by my grandmother, then my mother. Once family meals moved to my house, my mother would prepare the stuffing on Xmas Eve, which I would pick up and use next morning to stuff the turkey. Over time, she began to cook it and we warmed it up as a side dish. Then it stopped appearing on the table when it became too complicated for her to make. I really missed it and when Son #1 urged me to give it a try, I finally rose to the challenge. This recipe was not written down anywhere. My mother gave me a rough outline of how she made this, but when pressed for details, she sometimes replied, "I don't remember." So research began with my old cookbooks and then moved to the Internet, looking at English language and Hungarian sites. A liver dressing does not seem to be common in North America. Even on Hungarian sites it often includes mushrooms - and my family never added that. Now that I have made this in 2016 and 2017, I am ready to share the recipe.
- I found it is not that easy to find chicken liver, so don't leave that until the very last minute.
- DO wait until (almost) the last minute to buy the bread.
- Cut up and dry the bread the day before mixing the dressing.
- I like to let the prepped dressing sit, refrigerated, for a day before baking to let the flavours develop
- I bake this in a buttered loaf pan.
- Timing: prep bread 3 days before; mix stuffing 2 days before; bake stuffing 1 day before; on serving day, slice and warm.
1 loaf bread (see Notes)
Truly - see the lengthy Notes below about bread. Buy the bread the day before mixing this. With the goal of salvaging as much of the loaf as possible, cut off the hard crunchy bits of the crust. It's not a problem if bits of the crust remain. Tear or cut bread into small bits - between 1/4 - 1/2" - and not larger than 1/2". I leave it out to dry overnight, covered with a tea towel.
Just before following the steps below, soak the bread bits in 1/2-1 cup milk (as needed) and squeeze bread to remove excess milk if there is any. Use a fork to fluff up the bread, making it ready for remaining ingredients. In other words, the bread should not be a solid lump.
4 TB butter
2 medium onion – chopped fine (about a cup)
1/2 cup celery – ideally leafy centre / hearts, chopped
In a frying pan over medium heat, cook onions and celery in melted butter., until they become soft and the onions become translucent. Take care that the onions do not brown or become caramelized.
Remove onions and celery from pan and set aside – use the same pan to brown the liver.
2 TB butter
½ lb (at least 227 g) chicken livers
1/2 cup chicken stock
Do not use less liver. Sometimes the weight on packaged liver includes the weight of liquids. Plus, depending upon the amount of fibres you need to remove, you could end up with less than the 1/2 lb. So, better to by a bit more liver. Pat the liver dry, remove any fibres, and chop a bit.
Melt the butter in the fry pan used in the previous step. Cook the liver on medium heat until it begins to brown, and continue breaking it up a bit while it cooks (using whatever method works for you). Cook until medium rare - not overcooked. Remove from heat and add chicken stock. Stir and set aside.
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped fine
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Beat the eggs with a fork or whisk.
Add all the spices to the eggs - this helps ensure that they are evenly distributed in the dressing.
- To the prepared bread, add the egg/spice mixture.
- Add the onion/celery mixture and the liver/stock mixture.
- Mix well, giving the bread time to absorb everything. If it seems necessary, you can add some more stock or one more beaten egg.
- Place mixture into buttered loaf pan. This could be baked and served right away.
- Bake it at 375 F, covered with foil for 30 minutes; then 15-30 minutes with the foil off> Though technically almost all of this is cooked before hitting the oven, some sites suggest aiming for an internal temp of 150 F. Go a bit longer, or briefly under the broiler if more colour is desired.
- I usually bake it the next day. Refrigerating this overnight gives the flavours time to develop. (For me, the "next day" is the day before Xmas - this minimizing demand on the oven).
- On xmas day I slice this up, cover it with lettuce leaves and warm it up. Naturally, the lettuce leaves wilt, but they leave the dressing wonderfully moist.
Notes and Tips...
- Bread: how much? - the Italian loaf I buy is labelled 620 g. I have tried removing all the crust or none at all, and have settled on removing most (not all) of the crust - especially the hard, crunchy bits. That means you'll be using less than 620 g of bread - sorry I didn't weigh the post-crust portion, but all should work out in the end as long as you have no less than 450 g of bread.
- Bread: what kind? - I am sure my grandmother / mother used either Italian or French bread - I used Italian. I have seen similar family recipes online using other kinds of bread. Lately I have found a great rye sour dough - may try that one day. Hungarian recipes refer to using "zsemle" - these are large rolls/buns, almost like kaiser rolls, and they tend to use about 4.
- Bread: Crust or no crust? Since I have made double portions of this over two years, I am now suggesting that most of the crust be removed - especially the hard, crunchy bits.
- Bread: day old - my mother said she/they used day old, as is the case with some (but not all) similar online recipes.
- Bread: To soak or not to soak - whew! Lots of research on this. My mother can't remember. I have seen some recipes that simply use fresh bread, outweighed by many sites that warn against this. Fresh bread, they say, will lead to a gummy mess. The bread has to be dried or "staled", and yet should be wet before being added to the mixture. That hurts the brain, right? This resulted in lots of reading and consults with bloggers who like food science. Soaking bread in (usually) milk is called a "panade". I have used a panade in a meatball recipe - but somehow it made more sense when the meat was the star attraction, since a panade sets up some chemistry that keeps the meat tender and moist. In a dressing, the bread is a main ingredient, but apparently the panade technique helps ensure that the dressing does not turn out dry.
- Seasoning - almost every Hungarian site referred to adding "seasonings" which I found out too late might refer to "poultry seasoning" - which could be different there vs. here. The family recipe includes most of that, except for sage, marjoram and nutmeg. I think I'll stick to our recipe - though may add nutmeg next time.
- Some of my research is reflected in this post - "7 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Stuffing".
- About my research - only one of my Hungarian cookbook's (by Karoly Gundel) referred to a dressing with liver - it also contained mushrooms and bacon (and hard boiled eggs!) A search for Jewish liver stuffing offered up some ideas - there is some overlap between Hungarian and Jewish cuisine.
- For KB Recipe Attribution Practices please click here.
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