My heritage is Scottish-English – on all sides – so one thing I just have to have at any festive meal is Stuffing. And it doesn’t matter what the main dish is – Turkey, Ham or whatever – you can still have lovely, moist, crunchy-topped savoury Stuffing – baked in a casserole.
First things first…
Before we get into recipes and variations and techniques, lets address a central issue that mean the difference between a successful – legendary – holiday dinner and a disaster.
I’m talking about the old debate about whether to to bake your Stuffing inside the bird or separately. There are lots of reasons to cook it separately, not the least of which is, the danger of food poisoning from under-cooking the Stuffing. It used to be that our moms and their moms always baked the Stuffing in the body cavity of the Turkey, Goose or even Capon… But in those days, they overcooked the bird to a ‘safe’ 180 F or 185 F – just to be sure – and the Stuffing inside got properly cooked through, while the bird itself often got dried out and tough.
Nowadays, we cook to different rules: Roast a whole bird at 350 F – 375 F until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast reads at least 170 F. That ensures a lovely, tender, flavourful bird but it doesn’t ensure that Stuffing in the cavity is properly cooked.
Don’t take chances. Cook the Stuffing/Dressing in a casserole, separately, even the day before if you like. Just be sure to reheat it to at least 165 F before serving on the big day.
My traditional Stuffing recipe
This recipe makes a large Lasagne-dish-sized casserole of Stuffing, because we all know that everybody loves Stuffing…
Place the following together in a large mixing bowl:
2 medium onions, peeled, finely diced
2 stalks of Celery, peeled, 1/4 in. diced
1 marge Carrot, peeled, 1/4 in. diced
1 medium Parsnip, peeled, 1/4 in. diced
8 Cups Fresh Bread Crumbs, 1/2 in. diced
(Cut these from fresh or day-old bread the day before
and leave out on a cookie sheet to dry.)
1 Tbsp. dried or ground Sage
2 Tsp. dried or ground Rosemary
2 Tsp. dried or ground Thyme
1 Tsp. Salt
1 Tsp. Black Pepper
Mix all these ‘dry’ ingredients together well. Go ahead, use your hands. Just wash them well, first! And again, afterwards…) Then add:
2 Cups Chicken Stock
(Your own or bought in a box, with Chicken showing
as the first ingredient in the ingredients list)
Then mix well, gently, until all the bread is moistened. Now press the mixture gently into a greased or buttered casserole dish and bake, covered with foil, for one hour. Then, remove the foil and bake a further half hour or until the top of the casserole is crispy.
If you want to test your mixture for seasoning and flavour balance, take a small spoon full of the stuffing mix and fry in a small pan for a few minutes, until its cooked through. Taste. Adjust seasoning or herbs in the main batch if necessary.
Variations on a theme…
I like to add a small can of Smoked Oysters (chopped) to add umami and derpth to the flavour profile. I also occasionally add pre-cooked, scrambled Sausage Meat to the dressing I serve with Ham.
Try adding Crispy Bacon Bits and cutting back on the Sage if you’re making Stuffing to accompany Ham. Try other additions or substitutions to gear your basic stuffing recipe to Fish, Pork or even Beef… Think Asian, or even Southwestern!
~ Maggie J.