A traditional Thanksgiving dinner always includes vegetables, everything from green beans to potatoes and on to squash and turnip. But probably for most of us the item closest to comfort food is the rich, savory, satisfying turkey stuffing.
Preparing stuffing (some call it dressing) and choosing the ingredients becomes extremely personal; there are as many versions as there are cooks and kitchens. Many are handed down in families from generation to generation, and just one taste can bring back all the memories of Thanksgivings past. Mike’s version is from his dad. After so many years, the early morning chop-chop-chopping of the fatback has become just as familiar as the stuffing itself.
Stuffing styles vary by section of the country, and were dependent for many years on items available locally in the fall season. Many New Englanders (Block Islanders included) used fatback in much of their cooking — this stuffing recipe reflects that. Other versions use butter to add richness. In coastal areas where oysters are plentiful, they add their own texture and flavor. Some folks add chestnuts, sausage, mushrooms, wild rice, apples or cranberries.
Bell’s poultry seasoning originated in early Boston (1867) when sailing ships brought spices home from all over the world. Bell’s blend, which can be found in every grocery store, is unique and very popular. There’s hardly a New England pantry that doesn’t have a box of it on the shelf. Our son, Charlie, will be cooking his own Thanksgiving dinner in London this year. In some packages we just sent him, we tucked in a package of Bell’s.
Chunks of white bread are the main ingredient in most stuffing recipes. Dry, day-old bread is best because it absorbs more of the flavor and juices. In the South, crumbled corn bread is used instead. It tends to be less soggy than the white bread versions. We’ve included our best recipe for corn bread for the Corn Bread Stuffing, but a purchased mix could be okay, too.
Stuffing can be cooked and served in several ways. If it is spooned into the turkey cavity and roasted, it not only absorbs juices and flavors from the bird, but also imparts its own flavors into the meat. Another method is to bake and serve the stuffing in a casserole dish. If you’re a busy cook and short on time, this second way is more efficient.
And, speaking of efficiency, with all there is to do on Thanksgiving morning, remember stuffing can be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator until needed. It’s best to take it out and let it come to room temperature before it’s stuffed into the turkey.
As a caution for safety reasons, when the big dinner is over, be sure to remove any leftover stuffing from the turkey cavity and store it separately in a covered refrigerator container.
And last, just think about all those leftovers for the day after. Island resident Ray Boucher has one idea. He toasts a slice of whole grain bread (ask for a “boule” from the B.I.G.), tops it with slices of turkey and then spoons a very thick sauce (made by stirring his stuffing, which contains sausage and potato, into some of his gravy) over the turkey. Man food!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Corn Bread Stuffing
10 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 pound well-seasoned pork sausage meat
8 cups coarsely crumbled corn bread **(see below)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sage
½ cup finely chopped parsley
½ cup good white wine
3 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped (optional)
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans (optional)
Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onions and celery and sauté until they are tender. Spoon into a large mixing bowl. Add sausage to the skillet, break up with a fork and cook until browned lightly. Add cooked sausage to onion and celery. Add corn bread crumbs, seasonings and wine. Add eggs and pecans if desired. Mix well with hands. Stuff turkey and roast according to your favorite method.
Makes enough stuffing for a 12 to 15-pound turkey.
**Easy Corn Bread
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ cup flour
¾ cup yellow corn meal
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch baking pan. In a small bowl combine the milk, oil and beaten egg. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl combine the flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Gently add the liquids, stirring only as much as necessary to blend. Pour batter into pan.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes.
Mike’s Traditional New England Stuffing
¾ pound salt pork
4 medium onions, peeled
1 stalk celery
5 ½ quarts day-old white bread, torn in large chunks
3 cups whole milk, warmed
1 cup warmed water
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon Bell’s poultry seasoning
4 tablespoons dried sage
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
Chop salt pork until well minced. Add onions and celery, and mince in with salt pork. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add bread and milk a little at a time, mixing in with your hands. When all bread and milk are mixed in, add water and spices and blend well. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Stuff turkey and roast according to your favorite method.
Makes enough stuffing for a 20-pound turkey.
Oyster Stuffing for Turkey
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
7 cups day-old bread cubes
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh, minced sage (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1 pint shucked oysters, drained (liquor reserved) and coarsely chopped
About 1 cup whole milk
Melt butter in a skillet, and cook onions and celery until soft. In a bowl combine celery and onion with all remaining ingredients except the oyster liquor and milk. Mix well. Mix in the oyster liquor. Slowly add enough milk to moisten stuffing. Do not make too wet. Stuff turkey; roast according to your favorite method.
Makes enough stuffing for a 10 to 12-pound turkey.