Save a link to this article and return to it at www.savethis.comSave a link to this article and return to it at www.savethis.com Email a link to this articleEmail a link to this article Printer-friendly version of this articlePrinter-friendly version of this article View a list of the most popular articles on our siteView a list of the most popular articles on our site The right stuff Inside or outside the turkey, these are dressings your guests will gobble up By Kristin Eddy CHICAGO TRIBUNE November 17, 2004 BOB FILA / Chicago Tribune Some cooks insist that the stuffing belongs in the bird, while others much prefer to cook it separately.
* What to know if you stuff * Getting a leg up Let’s quit kidding ourselves: Thanksgiving is not about the turkey. Everyone’s favorite part of the meal is the stuffing, or dressing – or whatever you call it, as long as it is bready and savory and rich and full of flavor.
And everyone has a favorite stuffing recipe.
It might not be anything fancy, but it is beloved because it is a regular part of the holiday meal. Or it might be the one opportunity an ambitious cook has to make a statement on Thanksgiving, since the turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce so often stay the same year after year.
Though turkey and stuffing seem like a natural part of the Thanksgiving vocabulary, the stuffing part is really more of a Yankee thing. In the South, people tend to prefer dressing, or baking the seasoned bread in a casserole, rather than letting it cook inside the bird itself.
“This is dressing country down here,” said North Carolina-based culinary historian John Edgerton. "Why it should be that they stuff up north but dress down south, I don’t know. We do it to be different, probably. Contrarian.
“Somehow, aesthetically, stuffing doesn’t work as well for me. I think the turkey just needs to stand on its own two legs, and the dressing needs to stand by itself, too.”
Southern roots also extend to the bread itself; corn bread is the Southern staple, wheat bread is widely used elsewhere. Edgerton’s dressing made from baked corn bread croquettes seasoned with turkey broth is one example.
On the other side of the country, California food writer Marion Cunningham insists that the bread needs to go into the turkey.
CHARLES OSGOOD / Chicago Tribune Ingredients for a traditional herb stuffing include dried bread cubes, celery, onions, stock, sage and thyme.
“It collects the juices, for one thing,” said Cunningham, author of the revised “Fanny Farmer Cookbook.”
“There is an extra taste that comes from the bird itself. I have made the same dressing for I can’t tell you how many years. It is a sage dressing, and I like the sage taste with turkey.”
And then there are some people who don’t go either way.
“I think my grandmother put the stuffing inside the turkey, but it was mashed potatoes; she didn’t do a bread stuffing,” said William Woys Weaver, the Pennsylvania-based author of “America Eats.”
“But I don’t bother. There are so many ways to cook a turkey other than roasting. I cut my turkey into pieces, so I don’t bother with the stuffing issue at all. I leave that to someone else.”
GETTING STARTED It’s easy to find packaged bread cubes and seasoned bread crumbs in stores during the holiday season. Many of these make a fine base for your family stuffing recipes. But if you really want to make the recipe your own, start from scratch with a loaf of good bread.
You’ll need a sturdy bread, preferably stale, about 1 to 2 days old. French baguettes or any country bread with a thick crust work best. The bread should be whole to start with; pre-cut slices may be too thin.
Cut the bread into 1/2-inch cubes. If the bread is fresh, bake on a dry baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes, until the bread cubes are dry but not brittle. The baked bread can be stored in an airtight container for about three days.
Once the recipe has been prepared, here’s the way to cook it:
DRESSING Place the bread mixture in a buttered or oiled casserole or baking dish.
Cover with aluminum foil to keep the dressing moist. Remove the foil during the last 20 minutes of baking to brown the top.
The liquid you use can range from homemade turkey stock to store-bought chicken broth, and from water to wine, sherry, port or beer. Don’t overdo the liquid; trapped steam will also work to moisten the stuffing as it bakes.
STUFFING Stuff both ends of the turkey. Stuff the bird loosely, about 3/4 cup per pound of turkey.
Cover the exposed stuffing with a slice of stale bread to keep it moist.
VARIATIONS Here are some suggestions for stuffing and dressing that can replace or be served alongside the family favorite:
Sourdough with dried apricots and pecans Raisin bread with bacon and onions Herb bread with oysters Rye bread with apples and beer Cheese bread with roasted peppers and leeks Walnut bread with cranberries and lemon Corn bread with fresh corn and chopped country ham Onion loaf with wild mushrooms, sage and sherry Ciabatta with sweet sausage and dried pears Oyster and Mushroom Stuffing 10 servings STOCK 1 turkey neck 1 turkey gizzard 1 turkey heart 4 cups chicken broth 4 cups water 1 carrot, cut into chunks 1 onion, cut into chunks STUFFING 1 loaf (1 pound) light rye bread 1 loaf (1 pound) Italian bread 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter 2 large onions, chopped 2 carrots, chopped 2 celery ribs, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 teaspoons soy sauce 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 4 dashes hot pepper sauce 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms 1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms 1 pint shucked oysters 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked, crumbled 2 eggs, beaten For stock, place turkey neck, gizzard, heart, broth, water, carrot and onion in a large saucepan. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until liquid is reduced by half, 1 hour. Strain broth; discard solids. Set liquid aside.
For stuffing, heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Place on a baking sheet; toast until firm and golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside.
Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic; cook until vegetables are soft and onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in soy, Worcestershire and hot sauces, salt and pepper.
Stir in mushrooms. Cook 1 minute. Drain oysters, reserving liquid. Chop oysters into large pieces. Add to skillet; cook 1 minute.
Pour the contents of the skillet and the bacon into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the eggs and reserved oyster liquid. Add bread; toss well to combine. Add stock, 1/2 cup at a time, until stuffing reaches desired moistness.
Use the stuffing mix to stuff a turkey (it will be sufficient for a 20-to 25-pound turkey) or bake in a roasting pan or baking dish in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour.