While Christmas tends to be more about shopping, wrapping presents, baking cookies, and decorating, Thanksgiving is all about the food. When we think about a traditional holiday meal, most of us envision a beautifully roasted turkey sitting at the center of the table and homemade delights created from recipes handed down from one generation to the next. A great stuffing, also known as dressing, enhances the turkey and takes the holiday meal to the next level. It’s easy to make, and you can prepare it a day ahead to save time.
Stuffing isn’t a complicated recipe, but cooking isn’t always an exact science, especially when you’re busy preparing a large meal. Remember these four basic rules when making your stuffing:
Stuffing shouldn’t be overcomplicated. It’s a seasoned bread mixture with onions and herbs. You can add unique flavors along the way, but it’s just as delicious when you keep it simple. Start with a one-pound loaf of day-old white bread. Some people prefer to use sourdough or baguettes instead. Cut the bread into cubes. If you like larger pieces of bread in your stuffing, cut or tear them into one-inch cubes. If you prefer smaller pieces, use ¼-inch cubes. Spread the bread cubes across a baking sheet and leave them out overnight. Alternatively, you can bake them in the oven at 250 degrees until they are dried out. Stir frequently. Remove from the oven and place bread cubes in a large bowl.
Your stuffing should reflect the tastes that you enjoy. Fresh herbs add distinctive flavors. Try adding two tablespoons of fresh sage, and one tablespoon of rosemary and thyme each before adding other ingredients. Add salt to taste, but be careful not to oversalt. Some cooks prefer the taste of kosher salt, a coarse-grained salt. If using kosher salt, add about two teaspoons to the bread crumbs.
One of the secret ingredients for delicious stuffing is butter, melted in a skillet until it starts to turn brown. You’ll need about ¾ cup. Add 2 ½ cups of chopped onions and 1 ½ cups of finely sliced celery once the butter is melted and slightly brown. Within 10 minutes, the onions and celery should start browning in the butter. Remove the skillet from the heat. Pour the hot mixture over the dried bread cubes. Gently toss the ingredients together. Allow the mixture to cool.
Stuffing’s main ingredient is bread, but most recipes call for a liquid ingredient to create a moist and flavorful dish. Some cooks use store-bought chicken broth, which is readily available from the local grocer. However, rich, homemade chicken broth isn’t difficult to make and adds even more flavor. A homemade broth is great to keep on hand for other recipes. Prepare it ahead of time, make extra, and freeze the rest. You’ll need a total of 2 ½ cups of chicken broth. Add half to the bread mixture and toss gently. Set the other half aside.
Eggs are a binder. They create a richer texture for the stuffing. However, they aren’t necessary for delicious flavor. Combine two large, whisked eggs with the remaining 1 ¼ cup of chicken broth. Fold the egg mixture into the bread mixture. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. Spoon it into a buttered 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Cover with foil. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. The temperature in the center of the stuffing should read 160 degrees. If you like a crispy top on the stuffing, remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.
Stuffing is a dish that is just as tasty on Day Two as it was when you pulled it out of the oven. If you’re baking it ahead, don’t put the stuffing back into the oven to get a crispy top. Instead, remove it from the heat and let it cool. Cover the dish and place it in the refrigerator. To reheat it the next day, bake for about 45 to 50 minutes. If you prefer a crispy top, don’t cover it with foil when you put it back in the oven.
You don’t need to follow the white-bread rule when it comes to making Thanksgiving stuffing. Bagels are a tasty alternative to white bread. Challah bread, purchased from your local bakery, offers a richer flavor thanks to the eggs used in the bread’s recipe. Substitute frozen waffles for the white bread. Types of bread that don’t work as well include French bread and English muffins, which may become soggy once you add the wet ingredients to the bread mix.
Thanksgiving stuffing is a versatile dish. There are many add-ins that enhance its flavor, but adding too many may cause the stuffing to come apart. Cut back on the added salt in your recipe, and throw in some pork or Italian sausage instead. Bacon is also a popular ingredient in stuffing, along with mushrooms. Try adding ¾ cup of dried cherries, cranberries, or apricots. Apples create additional texture to your stuffing. Granny Smith apples add a tartness that works well with the flavors of herbs, onions, and celery.
There are hundreds of cornbread stuffing recipes. For those who don’t like traditional stuffing, it's a popular option. A basic recipe starts with first preparing the cornbread, although there are cooks who use a store-bought mix or a pre-baked version from their local grocery store. Break the cornbread into pieces and dry it out overnight to prevent sogginess. Eggs are essential as a binder with this type of stuffing because cornbread tends to be crumbly. Add sauteed onions and celery to the bread mixture, along with the herbs, and salt for seasoning, and chicken broth. Bake for about 30 minutes at 375 degrees.
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