Just realized you should probably bring a dish to your Thanksgiving dinner? No worries: I’ve got you covered. In a mere 30 minutes, Chef Mitch Prensky, owner of the South Street restaurant Supper, showed me how to make a unique, scrumptious and harvest-appropriate cornbread stuffing. Seriously: 15 minutes in the supermarket, 15 minutes to cook. Done.
As Supper is conveniently located just across the street from Whole Foods, Mitch had me tag along as he went to purchase the necessary ingredients, all pre-cut and individually packaged. Obviously, you’d save a few extra bucks by buying the vegetables whole and chopping them yourself—or by avoiding Whole Foods altogether—but the prices really weren’t bad; our total came to $17.81 for a portion that will serve 4 to 6. “Whenever I come in here with my chef jacket on, people always want to ask me questions,” Mitch joked as we dashed toward the checkout, but the man clearly knows how to work a supermarket—technically, our shopping trip took less than 15 minutes.
Back at the restaurant, we threw our ham bits onto the stove—a stove so powerful that even standing three feet away, I felt like my face was going to melt off. Before the veggies and ham were done, Mitch whipped out a surprise ingredient: a can of Victory’s pale ale (which you could also substitute with white wine or any beer in your fridge that isn’t really dark). As we poured a little into the sautéing concoction, he explained that the lager would add an extra bit of yeasty goodness and that we were cooking it just long enough to “get that raw beer funkiness to go away.” In other words, if it smells like beer, it’s not done.
After picking apart the thyme, warming up the turkey stock, crushing up the cornbread and melting a chunk of butter, we slowly mixed it all together. If you’re wondering what the ideal consistency for stuffing is, you want it “mushy but juicy”— definitely not dry. (Consider leaving the cornbread out overnight, as stale bread absorbs more stock.)
For any turkey cookers out there, Mitch also offers this warning: Always cook your stuffing separately, never inside the turkey! Nothing ruins a dinner quite like salmonella poisoning. (Note: If you’ve already made this mistake, or have been ostracized by your family due to a previous dinner disaster, Supper will be open for business, serving up a four-course Thanksgiving feast. Just something to keep in mind.)
Now, I’ve never been a big stuffing fan, but I can tell you our dish was far from any of the bland, spongy crap I’ve ever had. (Sorry, Mom.) In addition to the sweetness of the cornbread, both the celery and ham added their own kick. It’s also pretty filling: One tablespoon scoop was about all I could take. Still, having only used half of each ingredient, you might as well grab another pound of cornbread and make extra.
While we stuffed ourselves with stuffing, Mitch dished out a few more nuggets of culinary wisdom: “Eat really good, fresh food, and eat it in season. Then you’ll be tasting things when they’re at their peak.” For nonadventurous eaters, he recommends taking things slow: “Don’t go out there and eat tongues and intestines right away. That’s, like, intermediate level.”
I assured him this wasn’t a problem as I have no intention of eating tongues or intestines any time soon. For me, cornbread stuffing is intermediate.
Mitch asked if my past two lessons* have inspired me to start spending more time in the kitchen yet; I had to admit that I only really get into cooking when it’s for someone else. “Oh, yeah,” he said, “it can’t just be for yourself. There’s nothing lonelier than soup for one.”
Oh, I know that bowl of loneliness all too well—two to three times a week, in fact. Much to my surprise, Mitch then confessed that he doesn’t cook on his days off unless it’s for his wife (and Supper co-owner) Jennifer; when he’s on his own, he just eats cereal. Not only did this make me feel better about myself, it got me thinking that perhaps while learning about food, I should also be making a concerted effort to nab myself a mate.
So if you’re a single, chubby, local chef between the ages of 25-30, holla at me. You bring the food, I’ll bring the charm.
Find this week’s cornbread stuffing recipe, plus Nicole’s past columns, on PW Style, our arts & culture blog.