Chestnut and black bread stuffing and gravy

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned how much I love bread.  Stuffing, done right, is possibly the pinnacle of bread cookery.   It doesn’t go with just anything, but simple rubbed and grilled seitan, a half of a roasted squash, roasted fingerling beets, or even a seared portabello or maitake could be a great foil.

This recipe is basically taken from Martha Stewart’s website with a few important changes, namely: the method of cooking the chestnuts, the stock (which is surprisingly versatile) and the bread. I use the whole foods Black Russian Bread. Not to be a shill, but if Whole Foods has accomplished one thing, it’s making reliably decent bread widely available in this country. While stuffing season is just beginning, chestnut season is coming to an end, so make this soon, but know that hazelnuts or black walnuts are both  delicious substitutes.

BTW, the American Chestnut used to be a staple for millions of people living in what is now the United States and a keystone of the ecology of huge swaths of this part of the world.  They were the most common tree in North America.  Their nuts were small and delicious and so plentiful that all of Appalachia was basically carpeted in them come fall.  There was once a time when rural west Virginians actually had a steady supply of nutritious, wholesome food, and it was free to forage all around them. The American Chestnut basically doesn’t exist anymore, because America Ruins Everything so we use Chinese and European Chestnuts which hold very little value for wildlife and are reportedly flavorless in comparison. However, because of a handful of truly dedicated people, and the work of a few thousand inspired folks, this species will soon be making a comeback. Please check out the American Chestnut Federation to help bring back a regional staple.  

  • 1 cup dried chantarelles
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoon fermented black beans, rinsed
  • 25 grams olive oil
  • 25 grams All Purpose flour
  •  8 cups cubed black bread, dried overnight
  • 2 cups raw chestnuts, peeled and scraped
  • 4 shallots
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 sticks celery
  • Shaoxing vinegar
  • ½ bunch thyme, picked, reserving the stems
  • ½ bunch sage, picked, reserving the stems

To make the stock and the gravy:

Combine the chanterelles, garlic, fermented black beans and 8 cups cold water.  If possible, cook in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes, cool and then strain.  If you don’t have a pressure cooker, bring these ingredients to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, partially covered.  Strain through a chinois or cheesecloth.  Weigh out 250 grams of the stock.  Combine the flour and olive oil in a sauce pan and make a roux by cooking it slowly, stirring continously, over medium heat until the mixture is a solid khaki.  Then whisk in the 250g of stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the desired consistency.  If it’s at all lumpy, just strain it through a fine mesh strainer.  Season with salt and vinegar to taste.  

To make the stuffing:

Preheat the oven to 350. Crush the chestnuts gently, into 4-6 pieces each.  

Brunoise (or mince) the shallots, carrot, and celery.  Warm 1/4 inch olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat and drop in the chestnut pieces, caramelize the chestnuts evenly, then drop in the shallots, carrots, and celery. Season with salt. Sweat the vegetables over low heat for 15 minutes until the chestnuts are thoroughly cooked. Stir every few minutes to make sure the vegetables don’t take on any color. 

Combine the bread with the vegetable/chestnut mix, thyme and sage in a 9x13 baking pan.  Season with salt and vinegar to taste.  Add enough stock to thoroughly moisten it - approximately 2 1/2 cups.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. Check every few minutes for moisture. If it seems that it’s drying out add in more stock or water.  There’s nothing worse than soggy stuffing so keep tasting.  When it’s golden brown on top, take it out and serve alongside the warmed gravy.