Mama Stella’s Stuffing Balls
Some background before the good stuff!
(forward by Davis)
For as long as I can remember my mom’s stuffing balls have been my favorite part of Thanksgiving. If I didn’t get them… then Thanksgiving didn’t count! I have been talking about them on the radio since 2008. Over the years a few listeners have asked about the recipe so here we are.
I know our Stuffing Balls originated with my great-grandmother “Mama Stella” from my dad’s side of the family. She was loved deeply by all who knew her. My mom always talked about how much she admired Mama Stella’s skills in the kitchen and worked hard to get her recipes right from the moment she joined the family.
This recipe, and I use the term loosely, is filled with memories from our family that will make no sense to you what-so-ever. But I have chosen to post this just as my mom wrote it (Except for the font, common mom Comic Sans?!?) because even with little context it will give you a glimpse into the world I grew up in.
I always hate it when you have to read 20 paragraphs before you get to the recipe but allow me just one more thing. When I was growing up the prepared stuffing balls would sit on the back of the stove all day long and every time we basted the turkey we would also baste the stuffing balls. They would be baked just before dinner, as instructed in this recipe. When we started paying attention to food safety and kept them into the fridge it just wasn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong, they are still amazing when prepared with food safety in mind. We never once got food poisoning and I believe all that extra turkey juice made them just a little better than they are today. Without further ado…
Mama Stella’s Stuffing Balls
This is for 6 people more or less—add a bag and increase all other ingredients accordingly for every 4 additional guests—they will all want to take some home so make plenty. More is better.
1 Large Bag of Stuffing Mix (14 oz) [Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned—do NOT try to use any other stuffing mix—it’s just not the same. Not even close. Sam’s Club carries this in a box with two bags per box. And EVERY grocery in the country will have huge displays of it from mid-November on. DO NOT accidentally get the croutons or cornbread stuffing … trust me on this.]
3 cups Chicken Broth (I use Swanson.)
2 or 3 stalks of celery, diced (1 cup)
1 large onion, diced (1 cup)
1 stick butter (or 1/2 Cup olive oil)
2 whole eggs—slightly beaten
Sauté the onion & celery in the butter or olive oil until almost tender.
Heat the broth in a saucepan. Add the sautéed veggies to the broth as it is heating or right at the end just before it boils. I bring the water up to a boil and then turn off the burner.
Dump the stuffing crumbs into the pan with the broth and veggies. Toss until all of the crumbs are moist. Then put the whole thing into a very large salad or mixing bowl to cool slightly.
When the mixture has cooled sufficiently not to cook the eggs (comfortable to touch with your bare hands) add the slightly beaten eggs to the stuffing and mix them in evenly.
Form the mixture into balls approximately 2” in diameter (or whatever size you like). [UPDATE 2020: I’ve started using an ice cream scoop with the little thumb trigger release—this is a game changer! I have three sizes for cookies, stuffing balls (2”), and ice cream. OLD METHOD: I use food-prep gloves for this nowadays but we used bare hands for generations without incident.] Place them into a baking pan or large casserole (like a lasagna pan) or even a cookie sheet if you don’t have an appropriate casserole dish. [You will be basting with fat so, if you use a cookie sheet, it MUST have an edge to contain the fat it or you will catch the oven on fire.] It’s okay for the stuffing balls to touch. However, the more exposed surface you have on the stuffing balls, the more crispy the outside will get as it cooks. So, if you have the room, leave a little space around each one.
Baste the stuffing balls with fat from the turkey (or melted butter if you don’t have turkey fat, but turkey fat is better). Place in a 350° oven for 30 minutes to an hour—until they are brown and crispy on the outside. [The basting is critical to getting the slight crunch on the outside while the inside remains soft. This is essential if any Watts children will be eating with you.] I baste with a stainless steel (or glass) baster rather than a brush and I think that’s important also. If you don’t have a baster, dribble the fat onto the top of each stuffing ball with a soup spoon. One spoon full of fat for each stuffing ball.
They are good to eat with leftovers—some of us don’t even warm them up; they’re even good cold. They warm up beautifully in the microwave cut in half and covered with gravy. But then, isn’t everything better with gravy? One year, in KY, Rich Rose created a “Thanksgiving Leftover Casserole” and it was AWESOME. He layered a large casserole with a selection of our traditional Kentucky Thanksgiving dishes and the stuffing balls (sliced into medallions) formed the base. OMGoodness!
Mama Stella would be very proud that her stuffing ball recipe has come so far down the generations. She always made hers while sipping a small glass of Kentucky Bourbon. That could be why hers were better than mine.
LOWER FAT (and Vegetarian or Vegan) OPTION UPDATE 2019: I have made some minor changes in the recipe to keep the calories per ball down to 110. I no longer baste with turkey fat or butter. I spray a light mist of Pam over the stuffing balls and then bake them as usual. They are just as good. I have also tried them with vegetable broth rather than turkey or chicken broth and they taste just as good. This would work for a vegetarian (not vegan because they have real butter). If you have a vegan to feed, you can use Smart Balance with Olive Oil so there would be no animal products at all. GLUTEN FREE: The year Bobby went gluten free, he had to skip the stuffing balls, I’ve figured out how to work around lots of dietary restrictions but gluten-free isn’t possible.
One final note. These days we aren't able to get together for Thanksgiving as often as we like to. So my mom makes them for us to pick up before the big day so we don't miss them. Or have to make them ourselves. Sorry but you can't join that club!