Saturday, November 17, 2018

Stuffing For The Bird

Stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner turkey is a thing. People have intense opinions about it and can be pretty vocal. It's also one area of a traditional feast that you can play around with a bit, but at the risk of those vocal opinions if there are those at the feast who really, really just want everything to be traditional, each time. When we were young Mom mostly put the stuffing inside the turkey, but later she was just as likely to have most of the stuffing in a casserole, with just a little inside the bird for flavor.  Unfortunately I don't have very many photos of's really not all that photogenic.

My favorite stuffing is a variation of, surprise!, one that my Mom always made. I think her's varied a little bit now and then, especially the year that oysters were added, but the basic stuffing stayed much the same over the years when I lived at home. Things might have gotten wilder in the decades when she was the hostess for the East Coast siblings and their significant others, but I can't remember too many vocal opinions, so I suspect that it stayed pretty close to the original over the years.

For me the key component of stuffing is the bread. Mom used to save heel ends of bread and bread that had gotten stale and freeze them for the stuffing. I did that, too, but now I usually don't. The bread needs to be a bit stale or dry in order to soak up the broth but it doesn't have to be rock hard like some of my frozen bits in the past were. It's OK to take a fresh loaf and cut it into chunks and dry it some in a low oven, or put the chunks on a cookie sheet and cover it and leave it on the counter for a few days to go stale.

I also like to include cornbread, usually freshly made the week of Thanksgiving. Even though the squares in the photo above are very sharp edged, I prefer chunks about an inch to and inch and a half , similar to the ones in the photo below with all the chopped parsley. The chunks are not perfect squares because of the crumbly nature of corn bread, but the chunks and crumbs make a nice binder with the other breads.

Breads? Well, yes, if at all possible I use a combination of breads. Something traditional like a white or whole wheat or granary loaf, another bread with some dried fruit in it, and the cornbread, at a minimum. If I've been baking sourdough bread I make sure to save some for the stuffing.

What else besides bread should you put in? In my kitchen we start with chopped yellow onion and some celery, sauteed in butter or margarine to soften. If you like you can also include shallots, mushrooms, and/or garlic. Sometimes I cook a few ounces of chopped bacon and use the bacon grease for part of the fat to saute the veggies. It adds a pop of flavor and fragrance.

After these veggies have softened, I add the seasonings, including poultry seasoning, thyme, sage (these last two might be in the poultry seasoning, but I like them to be more dominant, so I add extra). Sometimes I'll also add a small amount of fresh rosemary, chopped. A key flavor is chopped parsley so there is usually a fair amount of that, often added to the bread mixture and not the veggies.. Salt and pepper is to taste.

Add-ins can include almost any kind of diced dried fruit, chopped nuts, too. Some people like to add chestnuts or oysters but I think that they tend to overpower the rest of the stuffing.

The final element is good chicken stock. I add just enough to moisten the mixture, but not so much that there is a pool of liquid at the bottom of the bowl.

Once the stuffing has been mixed together, it's time to use it to stuff the bird. I put a small amount of stuffing in the turkey neck area and the larger amount inside the turkey, being careful not to pack it too much because the stuffing needs room to expand a bit during the time the turkey is roasting.

You can also put the stuffing into a greased casserole and bake it that way. If you bake it in a glass or other microwave-safe casserole dish, you can reheat it in the microwave right before everything goes on the table. A large surface area, such as what you will have with a 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or even longer and wider) will give you more of the delicious browned stuffing.

I'll bet you know of one or more ingredients or methods that I've missed, but that's half the fun of stuffing...being creative...the other half is eating it, with a little turkey gravy over it!

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