What's for Thanksgiving? Stuffings and dressings can make or break meal
Butternut squash and cornbread stuffing muffins.
Chicken, liver and apple stuffing.
Mom's Rice Stuffing with Water Chestnuts, Apples and Hazelnuts
Thanksgiving Fig and Hazelnut Stuffing.
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A perfectly roasted holiday bird is a beautiful thing, so who can blame Mr. Turkey for getting all the glory on a Thanksgiving table? It's so lovely a sight, in fact, that guests often can't help but let out a chorus of oohs and aahs when it's pulled, in all its succulent glory, from the oven. Or stop themselves from trying to sneak a taste of crispy skin even while Dad is attempting to carve it.
Yet it's what the cook stuffs inside the bird's cavity that can make or break the meal.
Nobody's going to complain about a so-so bowl of mashed potatoes or the turkey being just a little dry if there's also gravy on the table. But stuffing? The bar's a little higher for this favorite Thanksgiving sidekick.
The best are wonderfully moist while, at the same time, just a little bit crunchy, at least on top. A good stuffing -- or maybe you call it dressing -- also should be highly seasoned, but not so much that it overpowers the taste of the turkey or clashes with the gravy. Finally, it shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg to make, because everyone is going to want seconds and probably even thirds, not counting for lunch the next day.
There's also the matter of personal taste. What kind of stuffing sends your tastebuds into overdrive often depends on where you live, or your family's ethnic heritage. Southerners, for example, love to build the dish around cornbread, while New Englanders add richness with oysters. In Louisiana and Texas, it all starts with a pot of rice; in the Southwest, flavor comes from chili peppers.
Further complicating matters is the "in-or-out" question. As in, do you bake the stuffing inside the turkey, or separately, drizzled with a little extra stock, in a buttered casserole? (My family eats so much of the stuff, I have to do both.)
I used to favor stuffing made with white supermarket bread and lots of sauteed celery and onion because that's what I grew up on, and probably what my mother grew up on, too. Over the years, though, I've come to love the subtle sweetness a few chopped apples and a handful of dried cranberries add to the mix; if the kids aren't paying attention, I'll also throw in some sauteed mushrooms.
We know there's a good chance some of you would never dream of fiddling with Grandma's stuffing recipe -- there's a reason it's been handed down over the generations, and that's because it tastes so good. But for those who are looking to try something new this holiday season, we offer four easy recipes to help you get started, along with some tips on how to stuff your Thanksgiving turkey.
This is Part 2 of our four-part series on Thanksgiving recipes. See last week's story and video on desserts, and look for future installments on sides and cranberries.
Butternut Squash and CornBread Stuffing Muffins
These savory muffins barely made it out of the oven before my 17-year-old was grabbing for the pan. Maybe it's a guy thing: Videographer Steve Mellon couldn't keep his mitts off them either, once he got that first tantalizing whiff.
This is a good recipe for beginning cooks in that it doesn't require unusual ingredients and can be made well in advance. To reheat, simply wrap the muffins loosely in foil and place in a warm oven while you're carving the turkey or whipping potatoes.
-- Gretchen McKay
- 2-pound butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
- Vegetable oil, for rubbing
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound prepared cornbread, cut into 1-inch cubes (I used a Jiffy cornbread mix)
- 1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1 celery rib, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped sage
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange squash halves cut sides up on a large rimmed baking sheet and rub with oil. Season with salt and pepper and turn the squash cut sides down. Roast for about 1 hour, or until tender. Let cool slightly.
Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees. Spread cornbread cubes on a large baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until toasted. Let cool completely. Leave the oven on.
Generously butter a 12-cup muffin tin. In a medium skillet, cook bacon over moderate heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Heat 1/4 cup of bacon fat in the skillet. Add red onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add celery, garlic and sage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery is softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in bacon.
Peel roasted squash. Transfer 3 cups of squash to food processor, add sugar and puree until smooth. Season mixture with salt, add eggs and process until incorporated. Add chicken stock and process again.
In a large bowl, combine toasted cornbread with squash puree and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir lightly, add onion-bacon mixture and 1 teaspoon of salt and stir again. Mound the stuffing into the prepared muffin tin. Wrap any extra stuffing in a piece of heavy-duty foil.
Bake muffins and any extra foil-wrapped stuffing in the upper third of the oven for about 40 minutes, until crisp on top and heated through. Unmold stuffing muffins and serve hot.
Makes 12 muffins.
-- Michael Symon in "Food & Wine," Nov. 2011
Chicken Liver and Apple Stuffing
Dining critic China Millman swore this was the best stuffing recipe ever and I'm inclined to agree: even without gravy, it's absolutely fabulous. My kids might have thought so, too, if one of them hadn't seen the container of chicken livers and squealed about it to her siblings. As it was, not one would touch it.
All right, so I was a little squeamish, too, about having to chop up raw liver, but it definitely adds a terrific flavor.
This stuffing bakes in its own dish, so it can be prepared hours ahead of time and reheated just before dinner. For a crispy crust, broil for a minute or two before serving.
-- Gretchen McKay
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
- 2 large onions, finely diced
- 4 celery stalks, finely diced
- Salt and pepper
- 4 tart apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 pound turkey or chicken livers, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped sage
- 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
- 10 cups cubed day-old bread (crusts removed), in 3/4-inch pieces
- 1 cup turkey broth (I used chicken)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onions and cook until softened. Add celery and let it soften, then season with salt and pepper. Add apples and cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the livers. Add sage and thyme and turn off heat.
Put bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl and add contents of the skillet. Stir together well. Pour in turkey broth and cream and mix well to moisten the bread. Taste and adjust seasonings; it should be highly seasoned.
Beat eggs and stir them in well. Transfer stuffing to a buttered shallow baking dish. Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden.
Serves 8 to 10.
-- "Heart of the Artichoke and other Kitchen Journeys" by David Tanis (Artisan, 2010, $35)
Mom's Rice Stuffing with Water Chestnuts, Apples and Hazelnuts
This Southern-style stuffing is a little lighter than a traditional bread stuffing, but just as flavorful, thanks to lots of fresh thyme and tart apple. Not all grocery stores stock raw shelled hazelnuts, also called filberts, so plan on having a nutcracker (or hammer) at the ready; to toast, place in a 325-degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes.To make a vegan version of this dish, substitute olive oil for the butter and vegetable broth for the chicken.
-- Gretchen McKay
- 6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 2 1/2 cups white rice
- 5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 tart apples, peeled and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Salt and black pepper
Melt butter in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion, celery and thyme; cook for 6 minutes, stirring often. Add rice and broth; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook for 22 minutes, without stirring, until liquid is absorbed and rice is just tender. Stir in water chestnuts, apples, hazelnuts, scallions, raisins and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
If stuffing turkey: Loosely fill cavity with dressing. Place any leftover dressing in a buttered casserole. Cover dish with buttered foil, buttered-side down. Bake dressing for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until heated through.
If not stuffing turkey: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 15-by-10-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Stir 1/2 cup turkey drippings into dressing; spoon into prepared dish. Cover dish with buttered foil, buttered-side down. Bake dressing for 40 minutes, or until heated through.
Serves 12 to 16.
-- "Debbie Macomber's Christmas Cookbook" by Debbie Macomber (Harlequin, 2011, $29.95)
Thanksgiving Fig and Hazelnut Stuffing
This hearty stuffing gets a flavor punch from sweet Italian sausage. But it's the Frangelico-soaked figs that make it truly special.
-- Gretchen McKay
- 2 cups dried figs, stems cut off, cut into roughly 8 pieces each
- 1 cup Frangelico (amaretto, whiskey or bourbon will also do the trick)
- 2-pound loaf ciabatta or other rustic Italian bread, crust left on, cut into 1 1/2 -inch chunks (about 12 cups)
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 2 medium onions, diced (about 2 cups)
- 2 celery stalks, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 2 teaspoons dried sage
- 5 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup fresh celery leaves, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Put figs in a bowl and pour Frangelico over them. Add 1 cup hot water, and set figs aside to hydrate on the countertop, uncovered.
Spread bread chunks on a baking sheet and toast on the middle oven rack for about 10 minutes just until they start to crisp up. Then pull them out of the oven and hold them on the countertop.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sausage and brown for about 3 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks so there aren't any big lumps.
Pull sausage out of pan and turn onto a plate using a slotted spoon, then put pan back on the fire on medium-low.
Add butter, onions and celery to the pan, and let cook for 2 minutes or so, until onions start to soften.
Add sausage back to pan, then add toasted bread, figs and their liquid, hazelnuts, thyme, sage, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Stir everything together until the bread absorbs the liquid.
Stuff the turkey cavity loosely with as much stuffing as it will hold, and cook the turkey.
Spoon the rest of the stuffing into a greased baking pan, and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, until the top is a little bit crispy and the inside is delicious. Garnish stuffing with celery leaves, and serve alongside your turkey.
Makes enough for 1 turkey, plus some on the side.
-- "American Flavor" by Andrew Carmellini (Ecco, Oct. 2011, $34.99)
First Published November 10, 2011 12:00 am