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The Food Maven Diary


The Famous Ritz Cracker Stuffing

I wonder if one day we will learn that Ritz crackers, like cigarettes, have been intentionally loaded with a secret chemical that makes them even more addictive than their fat, salt and sugar already make them. On the other hand, fat, salt and sugar are triggers enough to create endless yearnings and cravings – for more fat, salt and sugar. Ah, Ritz to the rescue. For me, they are at their best as a guilt-laden snack heavily slathered with peanut butter. Skippy. More fat, more salt, more sugar. Sorry. It's a thing from my youth.

As such a lover of Ritz crackers, I have been meaning to make this recipe for as long as I have known WOR radio's Joan Hamburg, which we figure is close to 20 years. Yet I have always been ambivalent. Philosophically speaking, it is definitely not my kind of thing. I am too much of a purist. The idea of using such highly processed crackers for a family feast just doesn't sit well. As a sneaky snack, okay. As real food? Ritz is not real food. But Hamburg and her family rave about it so, and they're purists, too.

Now, this year, as if the recipe hasn't been disseminated enough by her broadcasting it for 25 years, Joan has put it on the WOR web-site. To put it kindly, it is not a well-written recipe. I mean Joan is not a professional food writer, so she doesn't know any better. I know, however, that I, not she, will be getting the 1,000 questions about her vague recipe. So, for no other reason than self-preservation (ha!), I thought I had better, finally, work out a more detailed formula and put it on my web-site.

I didn't have the chicken fat that Joan uses to fry the onions, and decided that since many, if not most of you would have no desire to use chicken fat (as good as it tastes), or would not be able to find a jar of chicken fat in your supermarket (as easy as Joan says it is), or not be able to find the time to render some yourself (even if you knew how), I used vegetable oil. (Canola or grapeseed oil is fine, as is peanut or corn oil.)

And because I was not about to roast a turkey just to test this recipe, I basted my casserole of Ritz stuffing with a mixture of canned chicken broth and butter. Joan, it was fabulous!

This morning on the phone, however, Joan was absolutely adamant about how I had to use turkey drippings to get the real flavor of her family favorite. I know she's right, and so I just went out and bought a turkey breast to roast. Just a breast. I suppose I'm making more Ritz cracker stuffing today. I'm still wondering if I'll have any dripping for gravy if I use the dripping to baste the stuffing. I am tempted to mound the stuffing in the roasting pan under the chicken breast. The saga will continue. For now, this is what I have.

Joan Hamburg's Ritz Cracker Stuffing
Serves 8 to 10

1/2 cup chicken fat or vegetable oil
5 medium-large yellow onions (not Spanish), cut in 1/4-inch dice (about 7 cups diced onion)
1 1-pound box (4 sleeves) Ritz crackers, crumbled as per directions below
3 outside ribs celery, cut in 1/4-inch dice (about 1 1/2 cups diced celery)
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 14-ounce can chicken broth (about 1 1/3 cups)
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, warm the chicken fat or oil then fry the onions, stirring frequently, until they are very brown, at least 20 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium after the onions have wilted and become golden.

Meanwhile, crush the Ritz crackers in your hands so the largest pieces are no bigger than a nickel.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the browned onions, the crushed crackers, and the diced celery. Toss well.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs to mix well, then beat in the pepper and 1/2 cup of the chicken broth. Pour the mixture over the cracker mixture and mix very well again.

Pack stuffing into a 2-quart casserole or soufflé dish – not too tightly.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.

If baking along with a turkey, baste three times, every 20 minutes, with turkey drippings and juices. If baking without a bird, melt the butter in the remaining chicken broth and baste with that mixture. When done, the top and edges should be very crispy.

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