Stuffing makes the meal memorable

For many Americans, the true star of the Thanksgiving table is not the big bird but the stuffing (usually moistened with gravy). Given that, I believe the stuffing merits at least as much attention as the other key dishes.

 

So let’s start with volume. How much should you make? Assuming you want some left over, you should plan on about a cup of stuffing per person. The problem is that you might not be able to fit that much stuffing into the bird. This brings us to the next question.

To stuff or not to stuff? It’s called stuffing because you cook it by stuffing it into the cavity of the bird, then cooking the whole thing. This method results in a dish that’s nice and moist and flavored by the turkey’s juices.

However, the government has been telling us that it might be unsafe to cook the stuffing in the bird. That’s because to kill any bacteria from the bird, the center of the stuffing must reach 165 degrees. Unfortunately, doing that will likely overcook the turkey.

There are two solutions. If the stuffing hasn’t reached 165 degrees by the time the turkey is done, you can scoop it out and into a casserole dish, cover it, and bake it at 350 degrees until it reaches the required temp.

Can you stuff the bird the night before? Absolutely not. However, you can make the parts, bring them to room temperature on the big day, then combine them and stuff the turkey just before you slide it into the oven.

Alternatively, you could cook the stuffing outside the bird. Admittedly, you are then making a dressing, but the end result is the same.
The instructions below are for cooking the stuffing outside the bird.

BACK-TO-BASICS STUFFING

Start to finish: 1½ hours (30 minutes active)

Servings: 8

 

For the stuffing base:

1 pound firm white, home-style sandwich bread

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 cups finely chopped yellow onion

1 cup finely diced celery

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme

2 to 3 cups turkey or chicken stock

Salt and ground black pepper

Optional additions:

2 apples, peeled, cored, diced and briefly sauteed in butter

½ pound sweet Italian sausages, cooked and cut into ½-inch-thick chunks

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts, almonds or pistachios

1 cup dried cranberries, cherries or chopped apricots

1 cup coarsely chopped roasted chestnuts

½ pound sliced and sauteed button mushrooms

 

Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Cut the bread into ½-inch cubes, then arrange the cubes in single layers on 3 baking sheets. If you don’t have enough baking sheets, work in batches. Bake cubes until the edges are dried but the centers are still moist, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

When the bread is nearly done, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables and butter to a large bowl. Stir in the sage, thyme, toasted bread and enough of the stock to moisten the bread. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in any additions desired.

If cooking inside the turkey, transfer the mixture to the bird’s cavity and roast. If baking as a separate dish, stir in additional broth, then transfer to a baking dish coated with cooking spray, cover and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes; uncover and bake for another 20 minutes, or until slightly browned and crisp on top.

 

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