Casserole Stuffing - ©

Festive Sides: Homestyle Savoury Stuffing

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.

Casserole Stuffing - © firepit-and-grilling-guru.comPerfect Casserole Stuffing. Note the toasty golden brown tips on of the
top bread cubes and just imagine the lovely, moist fluffy interior…

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. The Stuffing inside got properly cooked but 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./6 mm diced
1 large Carrot,  peeled, 1/4 in./6 mm diced
8 Cups Bread Crumbs, 1/2 in./12 mm diced
(Cut these from fresh or day-old bread the day before,
and leave out on a cookie sheet to dry. Or cut them on
the day, and toast in the oven as you would croutions.)
1 tbsp. crumbled dried Sage
1 tsp. dried Rosemary
1 tsp. dried Thyme
1 Tsp. Salt
1 Tsp. Black Pepper

Gently mix all these ‘dry’ ingredients together well. Go ahead, use your hands. Just wash them well, first! And again, afterwards… Then add:

1 cup Chicken Stock
(Your own or bought in a box, with Chicken showing
as the first ingredient in the ingredients list)

Mix gently with a big spoon until all the bread is moistened. Now place 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. All that ‘gently’ stuff is to ensure the Stuffing doesn’t become compacted and turn out wet and heavy.

If you want to test your mixture for seasoning and flavour balance, take a small spoon full of the raw Stuffing 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 (85 g) (coarsely chopped) to add umami and depth to the flavour profile. I also occasionally add precooked, crumbled 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.