How to get stuffed


Stuffing is made with simple ingredients

Some years ago I stayed in a country B&B run by a woman foodie who gave cookery lessons on the side. We had chicken with stuffing for tea. I asked for the recipe. “It’s a packet of Paxo. Life’s too short to make your own stuffing,” she said dismissively. She must have seen the expression on my face (and secretly thought I should get stuffed!) as the rest of the visit was rather awkward.

Life is never too short to make stuffing. If you’ve got an onion, a few slices of bread and some herbs this can be one of the most exquisite dishes produced from the humblest of ingredients. A good stuffing is more than the sum of its parts.

For years I made complicated stuffings, with apricots steeped in brandy, or crammed with nuts, almost certainly containing mushrooms, sometimes all of this together, and always at Christmas. Looking back, it was over-wrought. “Do you have to put so much into it?” groaned my wife.

Then one day I was watching a TV programme about the chef John Burton Race and his family and he threw together a sage and onion stuffing to go with chicken. Now Mr B R is not someone you can warm to like Rick Stein but he does know how to make a good stuffing on the ‘less is more’ theme.

Get an old-fashioned cheese grater and rasp two or three slices of good bread. You’ll get differently sized crumbs which adds to the interest. Don’t worry if it’s going a little stale. And don’t bother cutting off the crusts. All the better if it’s a seeded bread because there will be extra flavourings.

Now thinly slice an onion or two and sauté until soft and translucent, possibly with some garlic, caramelising the sugars so the onions will add sweetness. Mix crumbs and onions together, season, add your chosen herbs, and a little beaten egg to bind. Then plop it in spoonfuls into a greased baking tray, making sure not to compact it. Stuffing doesn’t have to actually stuff things any more.

Then bake at whatever temperature your chicken or joint is at, or while it’s resting, but don’t put it in too soon because it will cook quicker than you think. You want it crispy on the top, moist underneath.

And that’s it. I make no claim to this recipe being mine. For all I know Mr B R may add other ingredients which I have forgotten. But this is what I remember. And it works.