Turkey Day Tip # 3- “When it comes to Turkey, stuffing is evil.” – Alton Brown
Although not likely on the menu of the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving Day feast in 1621, stuffing has become as ubiquitous as Tom Turkey himself. Although a staple of Thanksgiving Day Dinner, it seems that no two families can agree on what goes into proper stuffing. Even the name differs depending on where you are from. Traditionally, the word “stuffing” was used when it was cooked inside the bird, whereas the word “dressing” was used when cooked outside of the bird. Today, the terms “stuffing” and “dressing” are used interchangeably. Although “stuffing” seems to be used more in the North and “dressing” in the South.
These regional differences, as well as one’s nationality, usually dictates what is in the stuffing on your Thanksgiving Day table. For the traditionalist there is oyster stuffing. Southerners often prefer cornbread stuffing while Italians like sausage in their stuffing. Dried fruit, potatoes, and apples make up stuffing traditionally prepared by Germans.
Whether you call it stuffing, dressing or even filling (as I have heard it referred to) or wether you include seafood, cornbread, sausage or fruit, nothing is more important than where you cook this concoction – inside or outside of the turkey.
I prefer to cook the stuffing in a casserole outside of the bird — no junk in the trunk here. Then when the bird is done, drizzle the drippings of the turkey over the stuffing to give it added flavor and also help keep it nice and juicy. My preference is not just based on taste but safety concerns as well.
Food safety requirements dictate that you should cook a turkey until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. If the bird is filled with stuffing, it will take much longer to reach the recommended temperature. Longer cooking time equals a greater chance that you will overcook the other parts of the bird. More often than not, cooking the stuffing inside the bird results in either soggy, sticky, luke warm stuffing or an overcooked breast. Not to mention, the possibility of samonila poisoning if the bird is not cooked through.
Rather than filling your turkey with stuffing try filling the cavity with something that will give it additional flavor such as fresh herbs, garlic or lemon.
Although my taste in stuffing (or dressing as I cook it outside the bird) is pretty diverse (cornbread, sausage, oyster, etc), this year I have decided to pay homage to my Italian roots and make my favorite – a sausage, apple and walnut stuffing. Here is my recipe.
Sausage, Apple, and Walnut Stuffing
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 ribs celery, finely diced
3 small cloves garlic, smashed and finely diced
1 Lb. Berkshire pork sausage, casing removed, broken up into bite-size chunks – I prefer a “The Roman sausage” from our friends at Proper Sausages
3 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch dice ( I prefer Granny Smith Apples)
1 cup apple cider
1/2 bunch sage, leaves finely chopped
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
10 cups rustic bread, crusts discarded, cut into 1-inch cubes; or fresh bread slices toasted until crispy but no color, cut into 1-inch cubes (go see my friends at Acme Bakery for a variety of fresh baked bread)
3 cups chicken stock
Coat a large saute pan, over medium heat, with olive oil and add the onions and celery. Season with salt and cook until the veggies start to become soft and are very aromatic. Add the garlic and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until the sausage browns. Stir in the apples and apple cider and cook until the apples start to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the sage leaves and the walnuts and turn off the heat.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Add the diced bread and toss together. Pour in the chicken stock and knead with your hands until the bread is very moist, actually wet. Taste to check for seasoning and season with salt, if needed, (it does). Transfer to a large deep ovenproof dish (roughly 9 by 11 inches) and bake until it is hot all the way through and crusty on top.