Let me start off by saying that this recipe is a pain in the behind. You will want to start this recipe a few days before you need the dressing because some of these components take time to cook. But if you want a meatless stuffing that has the full on savory punch of one made with chicken stock or sausage, you’ll find this stuffing well worth your time.
The “meatiness” comes from deeply caramelized onions and dehydrated mushroom powder, both of which bring in complex umami flavors not unlike the flavors of seared meat.
When onions are cooked slowly, its sugars brown and take on a sweet nutty flavor. Its a pretty complex chemical process but only a part of what is happening when onions are cooked. There is also the Maillard reaction which affects not only sugars but proteins. This is the same reaction that makes seared steak taste different from, say, boiled steak (eww…) and makes toast taste different from bread.
When I caramelize onions, I like to overcrowd the pan so that there is an inch of onion rather than having them all in contact with the hot surface. By doing this, I create an environment where the bottom layer browns and the layers above it steam. The steam introduces moisture which prevents the bottom layer from burning. I will occasionally add a few tablespoons of water if I see the onions cooking too fast and when I do, I remember to scrap the bottom of the pan to free up the sticky brown fond.
Also, be patient. Go too hot and fast and your onions will be sauted and not caramelized.
Dried Mushroom Powder
MSG has a bad reputation. It is probably best known for being in Chinese food and causing headaches in people who ate too much take-out. But at the end of the day there is no proof that MSG is harmful and the ingredient is considered safe for consumption by the FDA. MSG is also natural found in foods such as meat, Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and mushrooms and is responsible for the taste of umami.
For the sake of this dressing, drying out the mushrooms serve several purposes.
- Removing moisture concentrates and intensifies the taste of the mushroom.
- Removing moisture removes mass which means I can add flavor to the dressing without bulking it up.
- Powderizing the mushrooms ensures even distribution of flavor across the dressing, rather than tasting the flavors only when you eat a piece of mushroom.
Dehydrating the mushrooms is a simple process but takes time. Slicing the mushrooms thin will speed up the process. Place sliced mushrooms in an oven set at 180°F. They are done when completely dried and brittle (time varies greatly depending on thickness of slice). Let cool and process in a spice grinder until you get a fine powder.
Vegetarian Croissant Dressing – yields enough for any feast!
8 oz Mushroom
6 Spanish onion (3 for caramelizing, 3 for saute)
4 Celery stalk
1 tbsp Thyme (fresh)
2 tbsp Rosemary (fresh and chopped)
2 tbsp Sage (fresh and chopped)
1 bunch Parsley (leaves only and chopped)
1 1/2 cup water or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 180°F. Slice mushrooms thinly and place single layer on sheet trays. Dehydrate in the oven until completely dry.
- Once cooled, process in a spice grinder until it turns into a fine powder. Store in a dry place until ready to use.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Slice croissant in half as if to make a sandwich. Then cut into 1 inch blocks.
- Toast in the oven until golden brown. Store in a dry place until ready to use.
- Cut all the onions into 1/4 inch dice. Place half of the onion into a pot with a bit of oil. The pot should be just big enough so that the onions rest about an inch high.
- Cook on medium heat stirring occasionally. The fire should be high enough where you hear a light sizzle. The onions at the bottom should brown evenly and the fond that develops in the pan should be sticky brown but not burnt. If onions are cooking too fast and not browning evenly, turn down the heat slightly and add a few tablespoons of water. Scrap the bottom of the pan when you add water. The onions are done when they are soft, dark brown, and sticky. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Cut the fennel and celery into 1/4 inch dice, similar in size to the onion.
- Heat a small pot and add the rest of the raw onions with a little oil. Once they start to soften, add fennel and celery. Cook until fennel and celery soften. You do not want color here. Add in thyme, rosemary, sage, dried mushroom powder and caramelized onions, and cook a few more minutes, stirring frequently, until very aromatic.
- In a large bowl, combine dried croissant croutons, vegetable mixture and chopped parsley. Add water or stock, a little at a time mixing frequently until the croissant is soft and moist. You may need more or less liquid depending on the moisture of the vegetable mix.
- Season with salt and pepper. It should taste extremely savory but not overly salty.
- Store in an oven-safe container and let sit overnight (resting is an optional step but it will help all the flavors marry and absorb into the crouton).
- Before you are ready to serve, heat up the dressing, uncovered, in a 350°F oven until the top browns slightly and the inside is completely hot. If the top is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil and continue to cook.