Alton Brown taught us that stuffing is evil. He awkwardly and half-heartedly rescinded the blanket prohibition against putting bread inside your bird with a well-if-you-really-must episode that involved a pre-roasting turn in the microwave and then a cloth bag and then in to the cavity. That doesn’t sound fun to me, does it sound fun to you?
The problem is that there is no doing entirely away with a dish that involves crumbled bread, traditional turkey spices, and aromatic vegetables. Folks need a gravy sponge. If it’s stuffed into a casserole dish, the same recipe becomes dressing but loses all the elan it gets from being cooked and served out of the back-end of the main event.
An attractive solution came to me from an episode of the BBC’s Wartime Farm. When Christmas 1940 rolled around for Ruth, Peter, and Alex their mission of historical recreation had them following the war government’s guide to “making do” in a holiday time where many things were rationed and turkeys were almost totally unavailable. In a delicious stroke of soft-propaganda luck the sepia-coloured pamphlet calls for preparing a mock turkey by molding pork sausage, bread crumbs, sage, aromatic vegetables, and grated apple into a roughly bird-like shape. The whole thing is covered in bacon and two large parsnips give the Murkey (don’t judge a recipe by its government-issued name) what sort of, kind of look like turkey legs. Naturally, Ruth is game.
With rather moderate expectations — I guess I forgot that anything covered in bacon is automatically excellent — I set out to create my own Murkey recipe for Thanksgiving this year.
I replaced some of the apple with onion, because we seem to have even strong ideas about keeping sweet and savoury separate, these days. And I also added two eggs as binding to help my fake turkey keep its shape and hold its moisture in the oven. Finally, I used much more bread than Ruth, and chose to blitz half the bread into crumbs and leave the other half as the familiar, torn, crouton-size chunks. This way, I think you get a more varied, interesting texture.
The recipe was originally intended as a way to get by during very hard times, but with a few small twists I think it stands up well as a modern substitute for stuffing and I’ll be making it again for Christmas.
Murkey (Mock Turkey)
Roughly adapted from the recipe that Ruth Goodman share on the third episode of the BBC’s Wartime Farm. Her recipe comes from a 1940 pamphlet published by England’s Ministry of Food.
Murkey (or mock turkey) is a bacon-covered, turkey-shaped substitute for stuffing.
Yield: Enough to serve at least 12 as a side dish, with leftovers.
- 900 g (2 lbs) pork sausage (best if ground from pork shoulder)
- 1 loaf stale bread (something like challah or brioche will be more delicious but also an even-further departure from historical accuracy), torn into crouton-shaped chunks
- 1 small apple, grated
- 2 small, yellow cooking onions, grated
- 6 leaves fresh sage, minced
- 450 g (1 lb) (streaky) bacon
- small bunch fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stems and minced
- 2 eggs, barely mixed
- 2 large parsnips, peeled
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Use a food processor to turn half of the cubes of bread into coarse crumbs.
- Combine all of the ingredients, except the parsnips and bacon into a large mixing bowl. Season to taste with a very large pinch of salt and freshly-ground pepper. Fry a golf-ball sized chunk on the stovetop and taste. Adjust seasoning.
- Line a half baking sheet with aluminium foil and form the sausage mixture into your best approximation of a turkey-like shape. Place the two parsnips where the turkey’s legs would be. Drape the sliced bacon over the murkey.
- Roast in a 350°F oven until the internal temperature reaches 150°F and holds there for five minutes. This will take at least an hour but that time will depend on a list of variables that includes your murkey’s shape and size. Increase heat to 450°F for last ten minutes to crisp bacon, if that’s how you like it.