Tips for the Best Thanksgiving Stuffing

Three spoons with different spices

The truth of the matter is there’s no one “best stuffing recipe” out there. If you’re from North or South Carolina chances are you do your Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing with cornbread. If you’re from Maine, your most comforting stuffing can include oysters which, to be completely honest, sounds pretty scary to me but to each their own. So I’ve decided to share a few of the things I’ve learned so that no matter what your Thanksgiving stuffing recipe might be, you’ll have a few simple tips that can take it from really good to great.

This year, I’m jumping on that cornbread wagon and making mine with dry (unsweetened) cornbread from the box and ample caramelized onions and some celery too. Here’s the
recipe for stuffing I’ll be using.

Cornbread pairs really well with sage and with black pepper so I’ll be adding lot of both to one batch. Since I know sage is one of those spices people either love or hate, I’ll make one batch with sage, one without. I’ll also probably use egg instead of two. I might even add some plumped up cranberries to the mix (recipe for cranberry stuffing recipe). Those will go in the batch that doesn’t have the sage, since that would complicate the flavors in a way I can’t predict. I often want to get creative over the holidays but have to remember to reign it in a bit and really think carefully about using nouveau spices and recipes since people yearn for the comfort of those traditional dishes. In our house, Thanksgiving just doesn’t feel right without grandma’s marshmallow topped sweet potatoes and lots of buttery, creamy mashed potatoes. Dare I stray too far from the course and I’ll be getting looks from my uncles but I digress…

So those tips I was talking about:

Keep it Crunchy

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of us want our stuffing a bit crunchy on the top. Rachel Ray has come up with a terrific way of increasing the amount of surface area for everyone’s portions of stuffing by baking them as..
Muffins. That’s right Thanksgiving Stuffing Muffins. Who’d a thunk?

This is such a great idea! Since I really want to make a cornbread stuffing this year, I’m sticking to that but instead of baking in a casserole dish, I’m buttering up a few muffin tins.

Keep it Safe

Stuffing the Turkey the way mom used to sure sounds good but it’s pretty unsafe. Baking your stuffing as dressing, baked separately as opposed to inside the cavity of the turkey, is a much safer way to go. Once the stuffing is baked, add just a bit of the pan drippings on top. That’ll give your stuffing some added moisture and the flavor you get from baking it in the bird.

Caramelize those Onions

Of the hundreds of recipes I’ve looked at in the past week, the ones that call for caramelized onions get the most rave reviews. That makes sense since caramelized onions really add great flavor and depth to the stuffing. If you want to be just a tad different, maybe try doing half regular yellow or white onion and half sweet Maui onions. Caramelized Maui onions sure are fantastic on just about anything and I doubt they’ll do you wrong in a stuffing.

Don’t forget the Celery

This was my big mistake two Thanksgivings ago. Going back to what I said about comfort and tradition and all that, if celery was always in the stuffing you ate at Thanksgiving when you were growing up, chances are some of your family members are going to feel like something’s missing if it’s not there. My celery might be your cranberries, nuts, sweet potatoes, rice, sage, oysters or whatever other stuffing ingredient that was always part of the dish.

And by the way, celery does add a very distinctive mellow flavor and texture to the dressing so if mom or dad always made it that way, it’s probably best not to deviate too far from the norm.

Lighten it Up

Stuffing or dressing is rich, heavy and buttery. Whether you opt for baking your stuffing in muffin tins the way I’ll be doing it, or go for the casserole dish, be careful not to over-mix your ingredients. When mixing your stuffing you want to distribute the moisture to the bits of crumbled bread but you don’t want it too soggy. When your mixture is too wet and/ or egg-y you’ll end up with stuffing custard. Along with the stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes, it’s probably a very good idea to get at least one light side dish on the plate. String beans with toasted and slivered almonds is nice but you can go even lighter with something like a cranberry and apple salad. The following recipe looks perfect but in this case, I’d omit the bleu cheese. Apple Cranberry Salad.

Recoup help now for that Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner! Tea (spiked?) and mood music as well as a good lock on that kitchen door can help. If your family’s like mine and tends to crowd the kitchen and you’ve got an open floor plan the way we do, get those board games out or rent some good movies. Keep the family members who aren’t cooking occupied so that the cooks in the kitchen can go about making the meal in a relatively peaceful manner.

Until later then! Happy Eating!

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