and Free-Form Techniques
by Kate Heyhoe
(Don't miss our special Thanksgiving Headquarters: A to Z)
I go nuts with stuffings. Stuffings are like collages: add a splash of color here, a texture there, check for balance and contrast, and continue until the sum of the parts is whole and complete. I follow basic stuffing recipes mainly for gauging cooking time and temperature, then launch into a free-form assembly of ingredients, rummaging through my fridge and pantry to find unusual items, special spices, or tidbits that sparkle and ramp up the overall taste.
Stuffing is arguably the single most popular part of the Thanksgiving meal. Because people look forward to the traditions they grew up with, each family's Thanksgiving dinner is generally the same identical meal served year to year. Consequently, changing the family heirloom recipes—especially the stuffing—can be dicey. Stewing guests and sulking family members may result.
On the other hand, because stuffing is so popular (and freezes well), why not make two versions? Besides your family's traditional favorite, try introducing a new version, one that's a little more exotic. You can bake it in a baking dish, or do what many families do today: cook two smaller turkeys rather than one large one, each with a different stuffing. The smaller ones stay moister, cook quicker, and you can carve one at table while reserving the other for a weekend of leftovers. (Scoop out all the stuffing from both cavities as soon as the birds are done, to avoid food contamination).
Essential Stuffing Components
Before diving into free-form stuffing creation, keep in mind that a stuffing basically consists of the following:
- The Foundation: usually bread or rice, although pasta, other grains and vegetables may also form the base. The foundation is usually a 4 to 1 ratio: 4 parts foundation to 1 part other ingredients. But vary the ratio as you like. I often make 2 parts vegetables because I like them.
- The Embellishments: these are the goodies that add texture, color, and contrast, such as nuts, diced vegetables, sausage or other meats, dried or fresh fruit. This includes such aromatics as onion, celery, and carrot.
- The Seasonings: salt and pepper, fresh and dried herbs, spices, citrus zest, hot sauce, soy sauce and other potent flavorings.
- The Liquids: broth, wine, beaten egg, milk or cream, juice, liqueur, and water can all be used to moisten the stuffing and add their own flavor. Use only enough liquid to moisten to mix. The stuffing should not be wet or soggy.
Going Global: Stuffings East to West
You can also dive in and experiment on your own with each of the "flavor landscapes" below—these are ingredients selected to complement each other. Try your hand at combining some or all of the ingredients in each group, letting your palate be your guide:
Southwestern Stuffing: cornbread, chorizo sausage, pinto beans, red onion, roasted green chiles, cumin
Italian Stuffing: crusty Italian bread; pancetta, sausage, and/or prosciutto; sun dried tomatoes; roasted red peppers; onion; celery; Parmesan; garlic; oregano; basil; white wine; chicken broth; olive oil
Provencal Stuffing: crusty French bread, herbes de Provence, wild mushrooms, fennel, garlic, dry vermouth
Cuban Stuffing: white rice, black beans, ham, bell pepper, onion, garlic, celery, orange zest, parsley
For a safe and tasty dish, follow these tips:
- Allow 3/4 cup stuffing per person, minimum.
- For bread stuffings, cut the bread into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes
and leave out to dry overnight. Crumble cornbread before leaving to
- Cook the meat and vegetable ingredients thoroughly before
- To save time, you can cook the stuffing ingredients the night
before and refrigerate until ready to use the next day.
- Pack stuffing loosely in the cavity; it will expand during
- Don't stuff the bird in advance. Stuff it just before roasting
to avoid bacterial growth.
- Cook stuffing until temperature reaches 160 degrees F (use an
instant read thermometer). If the bird is done before the stuffing,
remove the stuffing to a baking dish and cook until
- To help the stuffing reach the desired 160 degrees F, warm it
slightly before packing the bird. (A microwave is handy for
- Cook extra stuffing in a low-sided baking dish at 350 degrees
until done (160 degrees F).
- Refrigerate stuffing and turkey (separately) within 2 hours of
standing at room temperature.
- Freeze extra stuffing in air-tight freezer bags.
Kate's Stuffing Recipes:
More Stuffing Recipes and Tips
More Thanksgiving Recipes
Kate's Global Kitchen for November, 2000:
11/04/00 My, My American Pie:
11/11/00 Stuffing Tips and Free-Form Techniques
11/18/00 Better Tasting Turkeys: Drowning and Browning the Bird
11/25/00 Turkey + 3 Ingredients = Luscious Leftovers
Copyright © 2000, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created November 2000. Modified November 2006.