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Stuffed, From Head to Toe

November 17, 2005 By:
Andrew Schloss, JE Feature
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Photo courtesy of Mrs. Cubbison's Stuffing

Attention, holiday-goers: The spirit of feasting lies in the stuffing! Though the roast may be grand and the good china gleaming, it is not in such opulence alone that a meal takes on the charisma of something regal. But load a bird with apples and sage, cornbread and cranberries, or wild rice and mushrooms, and let the feast begin!

Especially now that turkey has become a commonplace commodity, it seems to be the stuffing and trimmings that surround the roast that set a holiday meal apart from the everyday.

Stuffing, by its nature, is mutable. Recipes may vary according to personal taste and cultural preference, but whether a stuffing is moist or dry, herbal or fruit-filled, chunky or smooth does little to alter the way it's made.

There's only one method for preparing stuffing. Flavorful ingredients - like onion, celery, sage or curry - are cooked until they release their aroma. A bulk ingredient, such as moistened bread or boiled rice, is added, and the stuffing is cooked until the ingredients become tender, after which a garnish of dried fruit or fresh herb can be incorporated into it.

The most popular flavorings are onion, celery and sage, but they could just as easily be lemon zest and anise, or curry powder and hot pepper. Though the bulk ingredient is most often bread cubes or cornmeal crumbs, wonderful stuffings are made from tabouleh, rices, kasha, potatoes, sautéed vegetables, sliced fruits or ground meat. And while many people never consider garnishing a stuffing, texture and color can be heightened by adding toasted nuts, dried fruit or fresh herbs at the last minute.

Though stuffing recipes usually have long ingredient lists, you can cut your inventory considerably by using a prepackaged stuffing mix. These preseasoned products make the need for additional herbs unnecessary, and though their package directions may require only the addition of water, you'll get a much more interesting dressing if you add a bit of imagination as well.

Sauté some apples with onions, or brown some mushrooms with cabbage to moisten the packaged crumbs. Use cider for your liquid or wild mushrooms as a garnish. Mix ginger with scallions, sherry and garlic for a Chinese-style stuffing, or add chestnuts, rosemary and juniper for a dressing to recall colonial splendor.

Perhaps this is also the time to settle the "stuffing"/"dressing" debate. Even though no one wants to admit it, "stuffing" and "dressing" are interchangeable terms.

"Stuffing" is the older word, dating from the mid-16th century, when it replaced the term "forcemeat," which came from the French verb farcir ("to stuff").

"Dressing" became popular in Victorian times, when the notion of stuffing took on indecent connotations. Today, "stuffing" is used more in the East, and "dressing" in the West. In the South, it's common to refer to ingredients stuffed into the bird as "stuffing," and the same ingredients baked separately as "dressing."

Regardless of the style of the stuffing or what you choose to call it, it is advisable to roast the turkey separately from its stuffing. Turkeys are large birds and take a long time to roast, 4 to 5 hours for a 12- to 16-pound bird. In this time, the breast meat is very likely to dry out before the dark meat is done. Stuffing the turkey only compounds the problem, slowing down heat transference through the internal cavity of the bird, and adding another 45 minutes to an hour to the roasting time.

The flavor of a stuffing is largely unchanged by warming it inside a roast. Since any added meatiness comes from the absorption of fat dripping from the meat during cooking, the meaty quality (and calorie content) of a stuffing is better enhanced by using reduced, defatted chicken broth for the liquid component in the recipe and letting the turkey cook unencumbered.

If you prefer the presentation of a stuffed bird, simply heat the stuffing separately, then spoon it into the cavity of the finished roasted turkey before serving.

The following recipes can be used to stuff two chickens or one turkey, and cover a wide range of dressings - from a traditional bread stuffing to a low-fat/low-starch/low-calorie mix of stir-fried vegetables. Most include a variation following the recipe.

Traditional Bread Stuffing
(Meat)

1 cup minced onion
2 celery ribs, sliced
1 Tbsp. margarine
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
tsp. rubbed sage
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
pinch of nutmeg
4 cups toasted bread cubes, croutons or stuffing mix
chopped cooked giblets from a turkey or chicken (optional)
1 to 11/2 cups kosher chicken broth

Cook the onion and celery in the butter over moderate heat until soft. Add the apple, sage, parsley, thyme and nutmeg. Cook for another minute.

Add the toasted bread cubes, giblets and chicken broth. Mix to moisten, and season liberally with salt and pepper.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Apple-Sage Stuffing Variation: Follow preceding recipe, doubling the sage and apple, and using one-half cup of apple cider in place of half the chicken broth.

Brown-Rice Fruit Stuffing
(Meat)

12 oz. mixed dried fruit, chopped
11/2 cups boiling water
11/2 cups diced onion
1 Tbsp. minced ginger root
2 tsps. ground coriander
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsps. margarine or oil
2 cups brown-rice blend
41/4 cups kosher chicken broth, boiling
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the dried fruit in the boiling water until it has absorbed the water and is fully rehydrated. Set aside.

In a large sauce pan, soften the onion, ginger, coriander, thyme and garlic in the margarine. Add the brown rice; toss well.

Add the chicken broth, stir once, cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes, until all of the stock has been absorbed.

Season with salt and pepper.

Mix in the soaked dried fruit.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Garlic and Fig Stuffing Variation: Follow the preceding recipe, substituting 8 ounces of Calimyrna figs that have been stemmed and diced for the mixed dried fruit.

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic for the ginger and coriander.

Wild-Mushroom Stuffing
(Meat)

2 cups chopped onion
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 lb. fresh wild mushrooms (any type), cleaned, trimmed and quartered
1 lb. white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. crumbled rosemary
1 tsp. rubbed sage
2 cups of fresh bread cubes
11/2 cups hot kosher chicken broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a large deep skillet, sauté the onion over moderate heat in the oil until soft.

Add the wild and white mushrooms, thyme, rosemary and sage, and cook until the mushrooms lose their raw look.

Add the bread crumbs and cook for another minute.

Add the chicken broth and the tomato paste, and combine thoroughly. Heat until simmering, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Mushroom and Roasted Red-Pepper Stuffing Variations: Follow the preceding recipe, substituting 2 diced, roasted red bell peppers for the quartered wild mushrooms.

Dried-Berry Cornbread Stuffing
(Meat)

3 oz. dried cranberries or cherries
1 cup hot water
1 onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, diced
2 Tbsps. margarine or oil
1 Tbsp. rubbed sage
2 tsps. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
1/8 tsp. crushed red-pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. loaf cornbread, cut in large dice
grated zest of 1 orange
3 Tbsps. chopped parsley
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup kosher chicken broth

Soak the cranberries in the water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté the onion and the celery in the (pareve) margarine in a deep skillet or large saucepan, just until softened. Add the sage, thyme, rosemary, pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and cook another minute.

Add half the bread, orange zest and parsley. Cook another minute, stirring frequently.

Add the cranberries and their soaking liquid, along with the orange juice and chicken broth.

Bring to a simmer, adjust seasoning and remove from the heat. Stir in the remaining bread.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Stir-Fried Vegetable Stuffing
(Pareve)

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp. grated ginger root
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsps. sherry
2 tsps. sugar
3 Tbsps. vegetable oil
9 large mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
cup chopped onions
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup frozen peas
1 bunch scallion, cut in long strips
9 small red-skin potatoes, cut in eighths
package (8 oz.) baby carrots
1 cup water

In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce with the ginger root, garlic, sherry and sugar. Set aside. In a large skillet or wok, heat half the oil until smoking. Add the mushrooms, onions and celery. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until mushrooms are tender.

Add 2 tablespoons of the soy mixture, the peas and scallions and toss for 10 seconds. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the remaining oil to the wok; heat through. Add potatoes and carrots, and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the water.

Cover the wok and steam the vegetables for 15 minutes, until tender.

Add remaining soy-sauce mixture to the pan, along with reserved vegetables.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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