Many of my older cookbooks contain some variant of a “mock turkey” recipe. Despite what our twenty-first century sensibilities might suggest, mock turkey has nothing to do with tofu or seitan and it’s anything but vegetarian. Recipes vary but they usually agree on two core components: ground beef and poultry seasoning. From a health perspective it’s counterintuitive, but Mock Turkey is meant to bring the flavors of Thanksgiving to the dinner table on a busy weeknight. And as much as I appreciate the sentiment, I’ve always been skeptical. The version below, adapted from Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950), is the first one I ever got up the nerve to try. It’s a little bit different than most. It uses mild Italian sausage instead of ground beef. No canned soup. No unbearable amounts of salt. And it seemed the most likely to live up to the promise of “tastes just like turkey”.
The original recipe is just kind of like “throw these ingredients in a casserole dish and bake”. It may very well work but it’s not terribly instructive: in my adaptation I’ve kept the fundamentals more or less intact but tried to put together a more sensible order of operations. I sauteed the sausage with the veggies to draw out a little bit more flavor and soften them with the pork fat. I’ve also gone to the trouble of making my own croutons, which isn’t strictly necessary. If you have a bag of those flavorless bread cubes they sell around Thanksgiving it will work just fine. The homemade croutons were great, but we’re not exactly chasing a Michelin star here.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t taste like turkey. Or feel like turkey. Or even remotely resemble turkey. What it is is a fairly competent stuffing recipe in casserole form. No one’s going to be fooled into thinking it’s roast turkey, but it soaks up gravy like nobody’s business. Pair it with some mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and you’ve got a moderately festive meal for a moderate amount of effort. And I’m guessing it tastes a lot better than the tofu stuff.
For the croutons:
For the casserole:
Make the croutons:
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Slice bread into 1 inch cubes, working to ensure roughly uniform size. Toss the bread in the olive oil and 1 tsp of the poultry seasoning. Spread on a large baking tray and bake 10-15 minutes, flipping over once or twice, until lightly browned and crunchy.
- While croutons are cooling, reduce oven temperature to 350 F.
Assemble the casserole:
- Peel onions and carrots. Finely chop onions, carrots, and celery.
- Heat a skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat. Crumble sausage into the skillet and saute for a minute or two, adding a little bit of neutral cooking oil if needed. Add chopped vegetables and saute about five minutes more until vegetables are just starting to soften.
- Toss meat and vegetables with bread mixture and pour into a greased 13 x 9 pan.
- Whisk together eggs, 5 cups of milk, remaining 2 tsp poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper. Pour over top of the casserole. As needed, add up to one cup of additional milk to bring liquid level half way up the sides of the dish. (There will still be plenty of the bread mixture above the surface)
- Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes at 350 F. Remove foil bake another 45 minutes or until center is set.