Why It Works
- Classic Thanksgiving flavors and cornmeal batter form the base of these hush puppy-like fritters.
- Cooked diced Granny Smith apples impart a stuffing quality to the fritters.
I've only made a fried turkey once, but almost as memorable as that juicy and crisp-skinned bird were the taters we sliced and cooked in the still-hot oil. The seasoning and fat from the bird infused those fries with a special flavor that I've never been able to reproduce. It did get me thinking though, if you can fry the centerpiece of the holiday meal, why not try out frying some of the trimmings? Well folks, it turns out that fried Thanksgiving stuffing fritters are pretty damn incredible.
Kenji actually floated the idea of stuffing fritters to me, and in an instant, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I've spent a bit of time developing a really good hush puppy recipe, so I figured if I threw some stuffing standards in, I'd have a fried approximation of my cornbread stuffing that adorns the table each Thanksgiving.
The first question was what to add to the batter to give it an unmistakable Thanksgiving flavor. I started with the standard onion and celery, sweated in butter to give them the softened texture and sweet flavor they normally develop in a traditional roasted stuffing. At the very end of cooking, I stirred a healthy amount of sage and thyme to add that familiar herbal touch.
Mixed into my cornmeal batter and fried, these fritters were light and fluffy, but had a balance that was more hush puppy-sweet than the savory stuffing I was after. So I built upon that foundation and added in lightly cooked diced Granny Smith apples, which squarely pushed these fritters into stuffing territory.
But I didn't stop there. I also tried another favorite stuffing mix-in—sausage. My guest tasters were mixed with this one. Sure, the sausage tasted good, but it also introduced a harder texture that was out of harmony with the rest of the soft vegetables and apples. I sided with those who weren't as fond of the sausage and opted to leave it out of the final recipe. Feel free to add it in if you like, or experiment with other stuffing-friendly ingredients like cranberries, nuts, or mushrooms.
With a batch of pretty awesome fritters resting nicely in my belly, I figured I was all set. Just for kicks though, and to use up the rest of my stuffing mix, I whipped up another batter. This time, I strayed away from the cornmeal-heavy hush puppy batter and made one that was composed mainly of flour, more like an apple fritter. These fried up just as light and airy as the first batch, but tasted like a whole different animal.
By backing down on the cornmeal, the savory value of this batch of fritters was turned way up. They didn't have the sweetness of the first batter, which gave the onions, celery, apples, and herbs center stage. Across the board, everyone thought these tasted much more like stuffing; something that would fit perfectly nestled between turkey and cranberry sauce on a plate. The only thing that would make them better is if I were able to fry them in post-turkey-frying oil, but worry not—a little bacon fat in the oil can work its own magic.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)
- 3/4 cup diced peeled Granny Smith apple (about 1 apple)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery (about 1 large stalk)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- For the Batter:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- For Frying:
- 1 quart peanut or vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup bacon drippings (optional)
Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add onions, apple, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions, apple, and celery have softened, but not browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in sage and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
To make the batter: Stir together flour, cornmeal, buttermilk, eggs, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in onion and apple mixture.
Heat oil and bacon drippings (if using) to 375°F (190°C) in a large pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Using a cookie scoop or 2 spoons, drop heaping tablespoons of batter into oil and fry until golden brown, flipping halfway through cooking, about 5 minutes total. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Season with additional salt to taste, then serve immediately.