Always a Thanksgiving staple, stuffing is no longer just for the
birds. From low-carb to Amish chestnut, see how the
bread-butter-seasoning combo has evolved
To stuff or not to stuff: That is the question. Whether ’tis far better to cook the stuffing inside the turkey or to cook it separately in a casserole dish.
Really, the answer comes down to personal preference, although there are some practicalities to consider. To avoid food poisoning, don’t stuff your turkey until you’re ready to put it in the oven. Also, make sure the stuffing in the center of the bird reaches at least 165 degrees to make sure it’s properly cooked.
Unstuffed turkeys cook faster, and you might overcook the turkey while waiting for the stuffing to reach the right temperature. However, some people simply won’t tolerate a stuffing that hasn’t been soaking up the turkey juices.
So, what exactly is stuffing? The basic recipe calls for onion, celery, butter, seasoning of some sort and, of course, chunks of torn-up bread. If the bread is a day or so old, it will soak up more of the turkey’s juices.
Of course, the basic recipe is only the building block. Thousands of variations are out there, from oyster to vegetarian.
For the record, dressing and stuffing are not the same thing. Stuffing is actually cooked inside the turkey, while dressing, though technically the same food, is cooked outside the turkey in a casserole dish.
The first reference to stuffing is in the oldest known cookbook, written around 200 B.C. by a Roman gourmand named Apicius.
The cookbook, titled ‘Apicius de re Coquinaria’, contained recipes for stuffed chicken, hare, pig and dormouse. The stuffing consisted of various combinations of vegetables, herbs, nuts, chopped liver, brains and a cereal-like grain mash called spelt.
Thank goodness we’ve got Stove Top.
If you’re feeling adventurous this year, try a variation on the stuffing theme instead of your usual recipe. Here are some suggestions:
1 pound bread, including crusts (10 cups, packed and cubed)
1 pint oysters, raw
4 to 8 Tbs. butter
1 cup celery, finely chopped
2 cups onions, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 Tbs. sage, minced
1 Tbs. thyme, minced
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper, ground
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated
1/8 tsp. cloves, ground
1 cup chicken stock
2 large eggs, well beaten (optional)
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast the cubed bread until golden brown on the middle rack. Put bread into large bowl.
Step 2: Heat butter until melted and foam subsides. Add onions and celery and cook about five minutes until tender.
Step 3: Remove from heat and stir in the spices.
Step 4: Stir in bread cubes and drained oysters and toss well, until the stuffing is moist, but not packed together. Stir in the stock and eggs. Oyster juice may be used in place of some stock.
Step 5: Cook in a casserole dish 25 to 40 minutes, until heated through with a crust on the outsides. If cooking in the bird, stuff while moist, remoisten and adjust spices as necessary.
Amish Chestnut Stuffing
1 pound fresh chestnuts
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
4 cups bread crumbs
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. poultry seasoning
Step 1: Wash chestnuts, then make two slits on each shell. Bake for 15 minutes at 475 degrees.
Step 2: Shell the chestnuts, then boil them in water for 20 minutes. Finely chop nuts.
Step 3: Mix nuts with melted butter, bread crumbs, salt, poultry seasoning, egg and celery. Toss well.
Sausage and Apple Stuffing
2 sticks plus 3 Tbs. butter, divided
2 cups water
2 large bags of your favorite dried cornbread stuffing mix
1 lb. pork sausage (not links)
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. dried sage leaves
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 medium apples, cored, sliced
Step 1: In a large pot, melt 2 sticks butter in water. When melted, add dry cornbread stuffing, stirring to incorporate liquid. Set aside.
Step 2: In a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat, melt 1 Tbs. butter and add sausage. With a wooden spoon, break up sausage and sauté until lightly browned and cooked through. Transfer sausage to paper towels to drain.
Step 3: In the same pan, melt remaining butter and sauté onions with garlic, celery, thyme and sage until onions are translucent and celery is crisp tender. Add walnuts and sauté for one minute. Add apples and sauté for one minute more.
Step 4: Remove from heat. Combine cornbread stuffing with sautéed ingredients and stuff turkey. Or, cook in a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven, covered with foil for half an hour. Remove foil and bake about 15 minutes more, until top is lightly browned.
Vegetarian Thanksgiving Dressing
1 pound whole wheat bread, cubed
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
1 head celery, sliced
5 to 10 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. dried sage
2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup egg substitute
salt to taste
Step 1: Sauté all the vegetables in white wine. Add herbs to the sautéing vegetables and cook until tender, but not limp.
Step 2: Mix vegetables with bread cubes. Add egg substitute and enough broth to make it all very moist, but not soupy.
Step 3: Bake covered about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes more.
4 to 6 cups cauliflower florets
2 Tbs. cooking oil
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/2 pound onions, minced
4 celery stalks, diced
1/2 pound mushrooms, diced
1 cup canned bamboo shoots
4 large eggs, beaten
4 Tbs. thickener
4 Tbs. fat from pan drippings or cooking oil
2 Tbs. corn bran, optional
salt and pepper, to taste
poultry seasoning, to taste
pan drippings or broth for basting
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350. Boil, steam or microwave the cauliflower until it’s soft enough to mash.
Step 2: Heat 2 Tbs. oil on medium heat, add pecans and sauté until slightly brown.
Step 3: Remove pecans with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onions, celery, mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Cook until softened and slightly browned.
Step 4: Puree cauliflower with a handful of vegetables, the eggs, thickener and corn bran. Season to taste and bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until firm.
Step 5: Gently mix in the cauliflower “bread” with the sautéed vegetables and pecans, stirring just enough to break it into crouton-like chunks. Season to taste with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Place in greased casserole dish.
Step 6: Replace in oven and heat until thoroughly warmed through, basting with broth or pan drippings if it becomes too dry.
Thanksgiving Dinner without the Labor
If creating a turkey feast is the last thing you want to do on Thanksgiving Day, leave the cooking to the folks at the following restaurants. Call to verify hours and seating times.
Ridgemark Golf and Country Club Resort*
Inn at Tres Pinos*
Black Bear Diner
Coyote Creek Golf Club
* Reservations Required
Or, if you want a traditional meal in your own home but without the work, try a premade holiday dinner from the grocery store. Meals must be pre-ordered.
• Nob Hill Foods offers a turkey, spiral ham or prime rib dinner. Trimmings include stuffing, a cran-orange sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, dinner rolls and pie. Heating instructions are included. Dinners serve eight to 10 and are $39.99 regular price. The dinners must be picked up the day before Thanksgiving, as the store is closed Thanksgiving Day.
• Safeway also offers either a turkey, spiral ham or prime rib dinner. Trimmings include stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, scalloped potatoes au gratin, green been casserole, a corn medley and pie. Dinners serve six to eight and are $39.99 regular price. The store is open Thanksgiving Day.
• Albertsons also offers the choice of a turkey, spiral ham or prime rib dinner. Trimmings include mashed potatoes, green been casserole, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, gravy, stuffing, scalloped potatoes and pie. Dinners serving six to eight are $34.99 regular price, and dinners serving eight to 10 are $49.99 regular price. The store is open Thanksgiving Day.