Being a naive Yankee, the question, “y’all want dressing with your turkey?” caused much consternation during my first Thanksgiving as a college freshman in Missouri. What, like ranch? Thousand Island? Is it for dipping? No ma’am, w’all most certainly did not want dressing on our turkey. Dressing on the side, please.
Of course I quickly learned that dressing is the football to stuffing’s soccer, the Hardee’s to its Carl’s Jr., and in doing so I doubled the number of my favorite things to eat at a Thanksgiving dinner. I dream of some day attending a Thanksgiving where both a dressing and a stuffing are served, and the current Obamalutionary zeitgeist suggests that this day may be closer than we had ever dared to hope, but in the meantime I will content myself with today’s recipe. It takes my two favorite types of stuffing, cornbread dressing and sausage stuffing, and brings them together with that great social lubricant, alcohol.
Before we get down to brass tacks, I’m worried that the esoteric booze choice might keep you from ever making this recipe. Because seriously, why the hell do you need a bottle of Pernod in your kitchen? How are you going to use that thing up? What is Pernod?
Well I’m glad you asked. When a bizarre coalition of jealous wine lobbyists and righteously indignant temperance crusaders managed to ban absinthe in America and most of Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, Pernod and its cousin pastis, were the watered-down, sweetened-up replacements that distillers invented to keep their doors open and their Impressionist painters drunk. Pernod is much less alcoholic and emphasizes the licorice-y taste of anise instead of the mysterious herbal cocktail that supposedly gave its infamous predecessor hallucinogenic qualities (but really didn’t.) Pernod’s anise flavor makes it surprisingly useful while cooking: any recipe with fennel as an ingredient is better with a little Pernod, and I intend to prove this in about two paragraphs. Salmon, shrimp and mussels are good matches, and Asian recipes that use star anise might also take to it well also. But of course Pernod’s true raison d’etre is to be sipped on a hot day, and that works as a fine raison d’haveinyourkitchen too. It may not be hot out anymore, here’s something to drink while you ponder whether you’re making dressing or stuffing:
– 1 part Pernod
– 2 parts ice water
The anise flavor is strong enough that you wouldn’t want to drink Pernod by itself, trust me. To be honest it’s something of an acquired taste, but you’ll want to acquire the taste from the moment you see it mixed: it starts out looking like flat Mountain Dew at the bottom of your glass, but as you pour in the water it fills up with clouds, getting more and more opaque until finally your drink has gone from Mello Yellow to milky white. It’s a spectacle that might, just might, be on par with watching milk pour into an iced coffee, and that’s saying something.
So what are you waiting for? Go buy yourself a bottle of Pernod, and when you’ve done that mix yourself a drink, and when you’ve done that it’s probably almost Thanksgiving already so put that glass down and get to work. You’ve got stuffing to make.
Cornbread, Sausage and Fennel Stuffing with Pernod
Makes about 10 servings, adapted from a 1995 issue of Gourmet
– 1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
– ½ stick butter
– 2 onions, chopped fine
– 1 ½ pounds fennel (about three bulbs, stalks trimmed off and chopped fine, about 4 ½ cups)
– 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, chopped
– ¼ cup Pernod
– 2 teaspoons dried thyme
– 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
– 5 cups crumbled cornbread
– About a cup of chicken broth
– Salt and pepper
1) Cook the sausage until it is no longer pink, breaking it up into chunks as you go. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2) Add butter to the fat already in the pan and cook onions, fennel, fennel seeds and salt, and cook over low-to-medium heat until the fennel is softened.
3) Add Pernod, thyme and tarragon. Cook until most liquid is gone.
4) Add everything to the cornbread (or vice versa), season with salt and pepper, and toss until everything is mixed together.
Now if sitcoms and Norman Rockwell have taught me anything, it’s that stuffing is meant to be cooked inside of a turkey. It’s what made America great. I, however, have never actually cooked a bird on Thanksgiving and have no idea how it is stuffed, so here is the damned-dirty-Communist method of cooking your stuffing without it ever seeing the inside of a turkey’s ribcage:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and put the stuffing in a buttered baking dish. Add enough broth to moisten the stuffing and then cover with a piece of foil that has been buttered on the stuffing side. Cook for 30 minutes, then remove foil and cook for about 20 more minutes until the top is golden brown. Sneak that stuffing onto the turkey’s plate afterwards and guests will be none the wiser. Then you can do the same with the dressing.
Happy Thanksgiving, comrades.