5 steps to better stuffing


Proceeding majestically from kitchen to table with a gloriously golden turkey practically bursting with stuffing on its platter is an iconic moment in everyone's Thanksgiving dreams. You can do it for real, if you plan properly and take steps to build flavor in your stuffing.

The big challenge is cooking the stuffing in the bird to a safe 165 degrees without incinerating the bird. The key is to keep the turkey moist.

Susan Westmoreland, Good Housekeeping's food director, prefers cooking the stuffing in a baking dish but realizes that Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving for some without a stuffed bird.

"If you do it … cover the bird with aluminum foil for everything but the last hour," she says. "Then start basting the turkey for some color."

Placing a loose tent of aluminum foil over the bird will create an environment that will help the stuffing reach the proper temperature, she says, while helping the breast meat stay moist.

Westmoreland is editor of "The Good House Keeping Test Kitchen Cookbook" (Hearst, $29.95). The newly published book contains a classic recipe for a vegetable-herb stuffing.

Here, she walks through the deconstructed recipe, explaining how to get the best results with your stuffing. Use this recipe, or adapt your recipe to the steps.

Step 1 Buy good bread. You'll need 11/2 loaves (16 ounces each) of sliced, firm bread. "Use either a Pullman loaf from a bakery or a good quality sandwich bread that has some body,'' Westmoreland says. Or try more creative loaves, such as Parmesan or herb. Toast slices on baking sheets in a 400-degree oven until golden and dry, turning slices over halfway through toasting, 16 to 17 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

Step 2 Saute vegetables for deeper, richer flavor. Finely chop 2 carrots, 2 ribs celery and 1 onion. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the vegetables; cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Don't crowd the pan; you want the vegetables to cook but not steam. Remove from heat; stir in 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves, 3/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

Step 3 Boost the bread's flavor by adding liquids. Pour 2 1/2 cups canned chicken broth or homemade chicken stock over the bread cubes in a bowl. Add the vegetables. Toss until the bread mixture is evenly moistened. How can you tell you've used enough broth? "If the pieces are moist on the outside, not soaked through, and hold their shapes," says Westmoreland. Use your hands — that's the way to tell for sure. Broth is a flavor carrier, she adds, meaning the recipe can use less fat. USDA officials like a moist stuffing for another reason: Heat destroys any bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.

Step 4 Spoon stuffing loosely into the turkey. Stuff the bird as soon as the stuffing is assembled, advises the USDA, using 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. A looser pack means the stuffing will heat more evenly.

Step 5 Roast the turkey (at 325 degrees or higher) as soon as it is stuffed, until the center of the stuffing reaches 165 degrees. Let the roasted turkey rest at least 20 minutes; remove all stuffing from the bird.

3 variations
Susan Westmoreland offers three quick ways to vary stuffing's flavor profile:

Chestnuts and sausage:
Saute 1 pound crumbled sausage in skillet along with vegetables; mix in 2 cups roasted, peeled, chopped chestnuts.

Fennel, pears, dried fruit:
Swap out carrots, celery and onion for 1 small bulb fennel, chopped, 2 chopped pears and 1 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins.

Corn bread:
Substitute corn bread for white bread. Saute 1 chopped bell pepper and 1 chopped jalapeno along with the vegetables.

Rather not stuff?
Cook the stuffing in a greased, shallow, 3- to 31/2-quart ceramic or glass baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil; bake 30 minutes in a 325-degree oven. Remove foil, bake 15 to 20 minutes longer or until heated through and lightly browned on top.

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