During the holidays, stuffing is a quintessential item on the menu. It can be placed inside the turkey (where it is called stuffing), or left outside and baked in a dish (which is then called dressing). There are many recipe variations for this savory, aromatic side dish, which is a marvelous way to transform stale chunks of bread into something delicious. When making stuffing, there are some important things to keep in mind, from the condition of the bread to cooking safety guidelines to the quantity needed to fill the bird.
Although there are many varieties of stuffing, at its core, it is mainly chunks of bread. And even though you can use different types of bread, there is one common factor: The bread needs to be stale. Fresh bread is soft, and will actually produce a soggy stuffing, whereas stale bread becomes stiffer as it dries out, and will keep its body as it cooks.
To prepare your bread for stuffing, start a day or two ahead of time. Simply begin with fresh bread and let it sit out on the counter overnight. If you want to be really thorough, let the loaf sit out overnight, cut it into cubes, and leave the cubes out for a second night. If you're in a hurry, you can toast the cubes in a 275 F oven for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them, as the objective is to dry them out, but not let them brown.
The heels of loaves of bread are great to save for making stuffing as kids aren't always fond of them, and they're challenging to use in a sandwich. As you are enjoying a loaf of bread, set aside the heels for stuffing, which will also give them plenty of time to go stale. Of course, you can always buy pre-packaged bread cubes for stuffing.
Before prepping the bread and buying the stuffing ingredients, you need to know how much stuffing you should make. This is based on the number of servings as well as the size of your turkey (or chicken). Smaller quantities of stuffing will work for roasting chickens, while the larger amounts are ideal for turkeys.
|Quantity of Stuffing||Size of Bird||Number of Servings|
|2 cups||3 to 4 pounds||2 to 3|
|3 cups||5 to 6 pounds||4 to 5|
|4 cups||6 to 8 pounds||6 to 7|
|6 cups||8 to 10 pounds||8 to 9|
|2 quarts||10 to 12 pounds||10 to 11|
|3 quarts||12 to 15 pounds||12 to 16|
|4 quarts||15 to 20 pounds||18 to 20|
Although it is traditional to cook the stuffing inside the bird, it is important to note that when done this way, you increase the risk of food poisoning. This doesn't mean it's significantly more dangerous than cooking a turkey without stuffing, just that the risk is increased.
This is for two reasons. First, a stuffed turkey cooks more slowly because of its greater mass compared to an unstuffed turkey. A whole turkey needs to reach an interior temperature of 165 F at the deepest part of the thigh and breast, as well as the interior of the cavity itself. The second reason is that when the stuffing is spooned into the turkey, it comes in contact with the raw interior of the bird. In addition, as it cooks, the stuffing is saturated with the juices that are produced during cooking, which means that the center of the stuffing must also reach 165 F. Note that the turkey may be done before the center of the stuffing is cooked through. It is best to use an instant-read thermometer to measure the temperature in the center of the stuffing.
Although it is called stuffing, you actually do not want to stuff the stuffing into the cavity of the bird. Packing the stuffing into the bird too tightly will create a food safety hazard since the denser packed stuffing will take longer to cook. It also creates a quality issue—instead of being light and fluffy, stuffing that's packed too tightly will have the consistency of cement.
Instead, toss the stuffing gently when mixing it and spoon it loosely into the cavity of the bird. Another reason to use a light touch is that stuffing expands when it cooks as the starches in the bread absorb the poultry juices. If it's packed too tightly, the walls of the turkey's body cavity could rupture.
If you mix up a batch of stuffing and find that you've made more than will fit in the bird, you can cook the rest in a greased baking dish. Just place the dish in the oven with the turkey about an hour before you're planning to take it out. It'll crisp up on the top, giving you two stuffings with different textures.
Types of Stuffing
No matter which ingredients make up a stuffing, what all of the recipes have in common is that they transform a basic starchy ingredient by cooking it inside the bird, thus producing a filling dish that is infused with the flavors and aromas of the roasted poultry. But depending on the part of the country or family traditions, recipes for stuffing can vary greatly.
In the South, cornbread stuffing is the norm, while in New England, stuffing historically includes chestnuts and oysters. San Franciscans, unsurprisingly, look to sourdough bread for their stuffing. And in Pennsylvania, leftover mashed potatoes may take the place of the bread.
Stuffing is a dish that can be kept pretty basic or prepared with a variety of ingredients offering different flavors and textures. Perhaps you and your family like a simple stuffing with chopped onions, celery, and a few seasonings, or something both sweet and savory featuring diced apples and fennel. It can also include spicy sausage and cranberries, or fresh chestnuts and dried herbs.
Fresh sage is also a great herb to use for stuffing since it popular in the autumn and is good to harvest shortly before the first frost. And, if anyone is on a gluten-free diet, you can use gluten-free bread in your stuffing.