Thanksgiving Part 2: Marilyn's (Old-School) Stuffing

This old-school stuffing taught me two valuable lessons.

New York Times' version:
photo by Andrew Scrivani 

our version:

Lesson 1. Before embarking on a recipe, really ask yourself: Do you want to eat this?

Oftentimes, with the recipes I choose to attempt, I am driven by factors unrelated to the simple notion of wanting to eat my creation. I get sucked in by the story, the photograph, the person and history supporting the recipe, the difficulty level, and/or the strange ingredients. In this case, the story would be that this recipe was one Marilyn Monroe "Scrawled on stationery with a letterhead from a title insurance company." The photograph would be the gorgeous one above showing a multicolored half stuffing-like, half frittata-like substance in a rustic black cast iron pan against the red and white stripes of a potholder. The strange ingredients? Chicken livers, ground meat, water-soaked bread and a conglomeration of dried herbs. And instead of stepping back and assessing whether or not I wanted to eat this stuff(ing), I became attached, made a shopping list, and moved forward.

With this recipe, regret came very soon after I'd gathered the ingredients and begun soaking the sourdough loaf in water. Do you know how unappealing soggy sourdough bread looks and feels? Why water, Marilyn? If we're going to soak bread in something, why not at least some manner of stock? Pouring water on bread seems to be something you might do to ruin bread. But then, if we're going to blame someone, let's blame me. I mean, what do we remember Marilyn Monroe for? I will give you one hint: It's not her cooking.
And let's not forget that this stuffing is no 5 Ingredient Fix. But yet again, it's not like I was going into this blind. Take this passage from the article: "The most unnerving thing about the recipe is its laboriousness. More than two hours passed as we soaked and shredded sourdough (to be fair, soggy sourdough more or less shreds itself), peeled hard-boiled eggs, simmered livers in water, browned the beef, cracked pepper, chopped and measured. When the ingredients were finally laid out, they filled 15 ramekins and bowls. Did Marilyn really have this much time on her hands?"

But in the immortal words of Alanis: You live. You learn. And maybe next time I will take my palate into consideration before the next attempt.

My palate! This brings us to lesson number two.

Lesson 2. I don't like liver and that's OK.

Somewhere during this past year, I began putting pressure on myself to eat more adventurously. I think this started around the time of my big culinary-point-of-view shift, or maybe even more specifically, when I read this line by M.F.K. Fisher from How to Cook a Wolf: “One way to horrify at least eight out of ten Anglo-Saxons is to suggest their eating anything but the actual red fibrous meat of a beast." This sentence definitely shamed me a bit. I mean, who did I think I was? Eating chicken breasts but never the giblets, feet, or even the wings? I began to think: A whole animal died just so that I could eat a portion of it? Is that right? Is that fair? Does that make sense?

So, subconsciously buoyed by M.F.K., I saw the livers in the recipe and tried to shake them off. No big deal. Just another part of the chicken. Even though my last dalliance with chicken livers wasn't a total success. Remember? I had paired them with water chestnuts and wrapped the two in bacon to make rumaki as a Mad Men homage. I hadn't loved working with them then, but I didn't totally hate them either. This time, though, the moment the livers hit the boiling water, the kitchen began to smell of briny wet dog, and I became a bit sad. When I took them out of the boiling water and chopped them up and removed the weird membrane-like part, I became sadder. I so very much wanted to be one of those two out of ten Anglo-Saxons not horrified at the suggestion of "their eating anything but the actual red fibrous meat of a beast."
So, I forged onward and formulated a plan. I told myself there was still a lot to like about this stuffingtake the walnuts and Parmesan cheese for examples. I liked those ingredients. I decided that all Marilyn's stuffing needed was a couple of side dishes to go with it (even though we had eaten the sausage brioche dressing from a few days ago completely solo and had been fine with that). I picked up some large portions of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese at our nearby grocery store. I served this trio for dinner and realized I was now treating the stuffing like a pill and myself like a dog that needed that pill hidden inside something straightforwardly delicious in order to swallow it.

Which brings us to the conclusion: I do not like liver and that's OK.

(Also, sidebar, I still didn't really eat the stuffing. I did eat the walnuts, though!)

Marilyn's Stuffing via The New York Times
Time: 2 hours

No garlic
A 10-ounce loaf sourdough bread
1/2 pound chicken or turkey livers or hearts
1/2 pound ground round or other beef
1 tablespoon cooking oil
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups chopped curly parsley
2 eggs, hard boiled, chopped
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts, pine nuts or roasted chestnuts, or a combination
2 teaspoons dried crushed rosemary
2 teaspoons dried crushed oregano
2 teaspoons dried crushed thyme
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon salt-free, garlic-free poultry seasoning (or 1 teaspoon dried sage, 1 teaspoon marjoram, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon pepper.

1. Split the bread loaf in half and soak it in a large bowl of cold water for 15 minutes. Wring out excess water over a colander and shred into pieces.
2. Boil the livers or hearts for 8 minutes in salted water, then chop until no piece is larger than a coffee bean.
3. In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef in the oil, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat, so no piece is larger than a pistachio.
4. In your largest mixing bowl, combine the sourdough, livers, ground beef, celery, onion, parsley, eggs, raisins, Parmesan and nuts, tossing gently with your hands to combine. Whisk the rosemary, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper together in a bowl, scatter over the stuffing and toss again with your hands. Taste and adjust for salt. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use as a stuffing or to bake separately as dressing.

NOTE: The recipe doesn't specify, but I baked it sans any bird at 400 degrees, uncovered for 20 minutes and then covered for another 25 minutes.

Yield: 20 cups, enough for one large turkey, 2 to 3 geese or 8 chickens.
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Matthew said...

Some bites of this were good, but some were baaaaaad. Can't wait for Thanksgiving!

Mary Anne said...

excuse me, not to be a total nitpicker, but i am an avid blog reader familiar with your tags. Shouldn't this be tagged as success-but-taste-fail?

in other news, good job attempting this and being honest that it was GROSS. that's more than i can say about the NY Times writers. they called it "genius." my bet is that their palates were just temporarily blinded by celebrity!

Brock James said...

also should be tagged 'forcemeat'

amelia said...

mary anne: you are so right. changing it NOW.

amelia said...

brock: you are also right! (and ewww.)

jeana sohn said...

" I do not like liver and that's OK."
so funny!! ha!!

Heather Taylor said...

this is an EPIC post. maybe one of your most epic ???
hilarious, honest, candid. who knew that Claire would come out of this looking like a superstar? yay for 5 ingredient fixes!

Rachel said...

So I feel kind of guilty for turning you onto this and subsequently reaping the benefits of knowing I do NOT want to try it now.... what do I owe you?? kudos on your courage.

amelia said...

heather: thank you!!

rachel: pleaaase!! i learned two valuable lessons!!

keepfeeling said...

i am with you on lesson #2 AND the conclusion: i do not like liver and that's ok.

bravo to you for taking this on!

Ana Degenaar said...

OMG! I need to use this recipe for TG! thanks so much!

Andrea said...

In the words of Henry: "Yucky."

Great post, though!

sara said...

can i just say a huge THANK YOU for trying this and deciding it was gross pre-Thanksgiving?

as kind of a stuffing purist, this recipe seems seriously blasphemous.

Mark and Marsha said...

Actually, briny wet dog sounds more appealing than this stuffing.

Neal said...

And the punchline is that matt ate every bit of it.

Anonymous said...

so. Which would you prefer: a meal you ostensibly like cooked a la grandma and mom, licked doctor probing fingers and simmered for days beyond ingredient expiration, or dead on arrival ingredients prepared immaculately?

amelia said...

neal: good one! (he did eat a portion for dinner though.)

anonymous/bill: really great question. it depends. how much dog food mixture is on Grandma's hands before she touches all the food?

seesaw designs said...


i'm excited for thanksgiving anyway.

Meister @ The Nervous Cook said...

This post made me laugh out loud. I love your blog so much! Keep up the good work, even if it's not always as delicious as one might hope.

And happy Thanksgiving!

alice said...

liver has such a strong flavour that I also find that nothing else can mask it. I made the most amazing pate that was also quite labour intensive. I really thought I wouldn't notice the liver with the abundance of smoked bacon and calvados in the pate-but I did and as a result didn't eat more than a mouthful. At least everyone else ate it though!