Every year I teach a Turkey 101 class, we cover all you need to know about preparing the star of the show for Thanksgiving. For class we deep fry a turkey, usually McGyver is out in the freezing cold (this year it was 4°F) while I jabber on about turkeys and the attributes of boxed wine J. At the end of class we have a mini Thanksgiving meal, we have my Company Mashed potatoes, some kind of cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, giblet gravy and a basic bread stuffing. Nothing fancy, a classic sampling of feasting foods.
Every year, after eating my stuffing, I hear “I’m never buying the packaged stuff again”! That is music to my ears, that’s what I’m talking about, that’s why I teach! Do I think that there is anything wrong with packaged stuffing? Not really, after all it’s simply dried bread and dried herbs. You still add the stock or water, butter, celery and onion. It’s just not that different than making it at home, except it doesn’t taste homemade. It tastes good and some brands taste better than others but it just doesn’t taste as good as homemade, period.
There are two things that set apart homemade versus packaged: 1. you choose what type of bread you want to use 2. you control the seasoning blend. It’s those two things that make all the difference. From there you can experiment and add whatever suits your fancy, mushrooms, chestnuts, sausage, oysters, nuts, dried fruits, let your culinary imagination lead you. The basic bread stuffing is the springboard, the catapult to all other variations.
I have to admit after years of adding this, combining that, I find that at Thanksgiving a love just the plain Jane traditional stuffing. I think it’s the multitude of foods that are going on, the sweet the savory, the crunchy the creamy, the hot and the cold that is enough excitement for my palate. And then there is the gravy to consider. Let’s face it, half our meal is covered in gravy. I would even hazard to guess that gravy may be the real star. Good gravy can cover for a variety of sins, even a dry overcooked turkey becomes miraculously edible under the creamy disguising coat of gravy.
Sausage or oyster gravy, even chestnuts are quite pronounced in flavor and can overpower the gravy rather than compliment it. Let’s face it, there’s also so much comfort in basic good tasting food.
I don’t go all out and bake my own bread, but I do use good quality bread, sourdough bread to be exact. It adds a little tang and sustenance without being overpowering. The other thing that I do special is make my own poultry blend which often contains dried herbs that I’ve grown myself and dried. Making your own herb blend (which takes no time at all) means you can adjust it to your families likes, for example if my son in law is coming I nix the rosemary, he detests rosemary. Easy enough! What sets my blend apart from all others is my secret, soon to be not so secret ingredient; dried ginger.
The ginger is subtle but adds just enough flavors that people can’t quite figure out what it is that’s different; they only know that they like it.
Do you stuff your bird or cook it on the side? I gave up stuffing my bird years ago, I prefer that my bird cooks faster and I like stuffing with a bit of crunch on top. Of course now that we deep fry our turkey (hooray for oven space), it’s a moot point.
Whether you stuff or not here’s some stuffing tips:
Stuffing can be prepared two ways. It can be placed (or “stuffed”) in a turkey or it can be cooked separately in an oven-safe casserole dish. No matter how you prepare this treasured side, remember that it is important to follow proper Food Safety and handling procedures.
Tried-and-True Guidelines for Stuffing Your Turkey
Prepare your stuffing right before you place it in the turkey. Use only cooked ingredients in stuffing (i.e., sautéed vegetables, cooked meats or seafood, etc.). It is also important to remember to use pasteurized egg products instead of raw eggs.
Place the prepared stuffing in the turkey just before roasting. Do not stuff the night before, as it could cause food-borne illness.
Stuff both neck and body cavities of a completely thawed turkey, allowing 1/2 to 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound. Do not pack stuffing too tightly, as it may promote uneven cooking.
When preparing a whole turkey for the oven, return legs to the original tucked position if they were untucked for stuffing. Turn wings back to hold the neck skin in place. Tucking the wings helps to stabilize the turkey in the pan and while carving. Note: If you are stuffing a whole breast of turkey, you can eliminate these steps.
Do not stuff turkey if cooking on an outdoor grill or when using a water smoker. Additionally, do not stuff your turkey if you are using a fast-cook method in which the turkey will be done before the stuffing.
Stuffing should be 165 degrees when done.
- ½ cup butter
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 9 cups, dried bread cubes*
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning (recipe follows)
- 1 teaspoon Alpine seasoning salt (or other seasoning salt of your choice)
- 1 to 2 cups chicken broth or homemade stock
- In a large pan, melt butter. Cook onion and celery in butter over medium heat until onion becomes translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. In a large bowl, add bread cubes and seasoning. Pour butter and vegetable mixture over bread cubes and toss to coat. Add 1 cup chicken broth and stir. If the mixture seems to dry add broth ¼ at a time, mixing after each time until desired moistness is achieved.
- If stuffing a bird, you’ll want a dryer stuffing. Makes enough stuffing for a 14 pound turkey. To cook on the side (recommended), place in a greased 9x13 pan, cover with foil and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.
- You can buy a loaf of bread (my favorite is sourdough), cut the bread into cubes and spread on baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or so, turning occasionally until dry. About ½ to 2/3 of an average loaf of bread makes 9 cups. Bread cubes can be prepared up to two days in advanced then stored in an airtight container.
- Poultry Seasoning
- 2 teaspoons ground sage
- 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon celery seed
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Mix all ingredients. Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, pulverize the spices. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
Food Photography Tip: Want to shoot ‘white’ wine but don’t have any or don’t want to open a bottle? An easy substitute is water with a little apple juice added to give it that nice golden color.
Butterball and the National Turkey Foundation
For additional help call 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372) or call me (618-920-7222)