You know what will get people riled up at Thanksgiving?

Stuffing Vs Dressing

I am betting Becke and I would come to harsh words over the whole thing. She, a tried and true stuffing gal, would never think of of anything other than cramming the cavity of her bird with bits of dried bread, diced veggies and buttery goodness. I, on the other hand, make an argument for baking the mixture in a separate bowl. I think that my turkey comes out so much better because I can control the cooking method.

In fact, this year we purchased a 23 pound bird from Kroger. Nothing fancy. I just can't bring myself to spending $35.00 on a Kosher bird when money is tight. My store brand bird cost me all of $7.50. Easy on the wallet - tasty in the tummy. I had the hubby butterfly out this big old bird. That way I could monitor the temperature of the white and dark meat separately and pull out pieces parts as they got done. No Normal Rockwell moments around my Thanksgiving table - the resultant bird looked like something Victor Frankenstein would have served. Not that my family would have been depicted anyway - when we eat it looks more like a scene from a show on Animal Planet. "The three predators are now moving in quickly - their prey no longer capable of resisting attack. Notice how the big male dismembers the large bird, making way for its mate and offspring to pick the choicest morsels before he too falls upon the helpless turkey."

So - let's return to this stuffing vs dressing debate. In my household growing up, we had both - mostly because there was never enough stuffing to go around. We would get a 16 pound turkey for six people and the cavity just wasn't big enough to hold the monumental amount of bread-y goodness for everyone. My dad got first shot at it - and then it was catch as catch can. I don't think my younger brother ever got any stuffing until he was old enough to fend off the other attackers. My mother was forced to supplement with a big bowl of dressing - usually oyster dressing.

I had two problems with this. 1) I hated getting pieces of shell. My mom would miss some of the tinier bits when she cleaned the oysters. and 2) It was dry as hell. The stuffing was always nice and moist and the dressing needed a ton of gravy to make it palatable.

It wasn't until I worked in a restaurant that I learned a good way to make stuffing. Delores had been cooking in restaurants for many years. She wasn't a chef, she was a cook. And there in nothing wrong with being a good cook. Chefs couldn't be chefs without competent people under them. Delores only worked three days a week - Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday she was responsible for making the daily special and all the regulars knew they had better show up early to get some. Italian wedding soup, stuffed green peppers, Swiss steak, roast pork - every single dish was good. And in the process of helping her between tables, I got to learn how to make a lot of her dishes.

Every year Delores would make a big batch of dressing for the owner to take to his family gathering. Cheating I know - but hey, he was a man who knew how to manager his resources. That meant I got to see how someone else made this required holiday dish. It was nothing like I had seen before, but it has been the technique I've used ever since. The technique is not revolutionary, but its more akin to a savory bread pudding than the dried out stuffing that my mom would make.

My recipe goes something like this.

2 loaves of quality white/wheat bread, cubed
4-5 stalks of celery, medium dice
2 medium onions, medium dice
1 medium carrot, medium dice (optional)
1/2 stick butter
4-6 cups of broth, warmed
herbs and spices
Salt and pepper
1 egg

1) Start the night before. Take the cubed bread and let it dry overnight. It should be fairly crumbly. If you don't have the time or inclination, you can also dry out the cubes in the oven set on low. The whole idea is to get out as much moisture from the bread as possible so it can soak up the broth and spices. When dry, put the bread in a really large pan or bowl. I usually have to break out a huge bowl I got from Tupperware.

2) In a large pot, melt the butter and saute the onions, celery and carrots until the onions are transparent. Add 4 cups of the stock, and allow to simmer. This is also where you add the dried herbs and spices. What I add varies depending on what I am serving this with and what I have on hand. For the Thanksgiving batch it went like this - 2 T of rubbed sage, 2 bay leaves, a little seasoned salt, pepper, 1/2 t of dried chipolte pepper, 1/2 t of Spanish smoked paprika, 1 t of Mural of Flavor (some new stuff from Penzey's), 1/2 t garlic powder and 1/2 t onion powder. The idea is to make the flavors very intense in the broth. Remember, this is getting mixed in with tons of really bland dried bread. If you have fresh herbs, then you would add then to the bread mixture just before you pour the hot broth/spice/veggies over top. You don't want to over cook them.

This is the right texture.
It's kinda hard to tell, but hey its a tactile thing not a visual thing.

3) Pour the veggie/spice/broth mixture over the dried bread. Mix. You want to distribute the broth evenly over the dried bread. Here is the tricky part. The bread should be fairly moist. Almost like a thick slurry of bread. If it isn't moist all the way through, then you might need to add a little more liquid. (Here are my thoughts on this: When you go to put the stuffing into the bird, you make it dry so that it will soak up the juices coming out of the meat. This means you need to compensate for that extra moisture. Also, when you are baking the dressing, some of the liquid will evaporate. So you have to make it just a bit more moist than you think it should be so that it will "dry out" just enough to make it tasty. Its a fine balance. I ruined a couple of batches before I got the knack of it.) When the texture is right, add one beaten egg and mix well. Pour into a greased oven proof bowl bowl. I use an old 4 qt Pyrex bowl I bought at a garage sale for $.25. It's ugly, but it works.

4) Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes. You will know when its done because the top with be all brown and crusty and the inside should be set and moist.

My apologizes for the lack of photos. The final product was eaten rather quickly and pronounced to be "very good - the best you ever made" by the family.

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