by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
Homemade stuffing is my favorite thing about Thanksgiving. I wish people served it more than just once a year.
— Troy Gentile
Let's go right ahead and open up a whole can of worms. Let me begin by saying stuffing is not dressing and dressing is not stuffing. They are two entirely different things, though they may be made with roughly the same ingredients. There is a war of words over what it should be called that goes beyond mere semantics. It has to do with region-speak.
Purists believe that stuffing is anything you put inside the turkey and dressing is what is cooked in a separate pan. But southern regionalists will say, quite vehemently I might add, that stuffing is such an awful term that whether it goes inside the bird or not, it's called dressing.
Growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania, my mom actually called it filling. But as I grew older I leaned toward the more widely accepted Northern vernacular and called it stuffing. Then later, I butted heads with my southern compatriots who called everything dressing regardless of where it was cooked and suddenly my head spun around three times in utter confusion.
To avoid confusion, when I say stuffing, I'm talking about a white bread/milk/egg side dish that is cooked INSIDE the turkey. You may argue what it is called and I'm okay with that, because to be fair I'm including a southern recipe for turkey dressing. Regardless of what you call it, It's delicious and a staple at any Thanksgiving meal.
The earliest documentary evidence of stuffing comes in a Roman cookbook, Apicius De Re Coquinaria, which contains recipes for stuffed chicken, dormouse, hare, and pig. Most of the stuffings described consist of vegetables, herbs and spices, nuts, and spelt (an old cereal), and frequently contain chopped liver, brains, and other organ meat.
2 loaves of stale bread
2 medium onions, chopped
3 whole eggs
2 cups milk
You can buy stale, cubed bread right before Thanksgiving and Christmas in most grocery stores, but I like to cube the bread myself. The reason is that I don't necessarily like to confine eating this dish only during the holidays—It can be used for whole range of meats such as whole roaster chickens, quail, or even placed between two cuts of meat such as pork chops and trussed together, So, to keep myself in practice for when the store-bought cube are unavailable, I always make it by hand, starting with setting old white bread out for a day or two to make it stale. Then cut the slices of bread into cubes (about 4x4 cuts per slice).
Sauté a 1/4 portion of the onions in a skillet with cooking oil. My mother used good old crisco and I admit, the stuffing tastes better with crisco, but it can also stop your heart from all the trans fats. Still, once a year might not be bad. Add about 1/4 of the bread crumbs, sprinkle with a light dusting of sage and sauté the bread crumbs until they turn brown. This is almost like making homemade croutons, though you don't want the bread to be that hard. Set aside and repeat three more times until all the bread has been sautéd. Cover and place in the refrigerator until you are ready to stuff the turkey, which could be overnight.
Do not, repeat DO NOT, mix in eggs and milk until just before stuffing the turkey. Its a sure way to make yourself and all your guests sick if the mixture sits for a long time, especially if its overnight.
When ready to stuff the turkey, mix everything together until it has a wet consistency, though not dripping wet. Stuff inside turkey, and cook according to turkey cooking instructions. If you have extra (you probably will), you can place it in a casserole dish, cover with foil, and cook for a much shorter time than it takes to cook a turkey.
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