Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stuff It

When my ancestors arrived in Boston from England in the 1630's stuffing must have been part of their culinary heritage. But, it’s been around much longer than that, as anyone who has read “Clan of the Cave Bear” knows! Thanks to Aspicius, author of one of the oldest extant cookbooks, we know that the Romans stuffed everything from pig to dormouse. The French word for stuffing “farce” comes from the Latin word “facire” which means to stuff. The French used it to describe a comedic play (the farce), which was “stuffed” in between other plays. Farce is still used to describe the chopped meats used in sausage. In the mid 1500’s the term stuffing appeared in English cooking for the first time. The Victorians renamed the dish “dressing.” Why? The term stuffing must have insulted their sensibilities, but the rationale behind the change in nomenclature would be a guess. Today the terms stuffing and dressing are interchangeable.

For many years, believing that complicated was better, I strayed from my culinary roots and embarked on a stuffing odyssey. I tried recipe after recipe--corn bread, wild rice and mushroom, and on and on. Each recipe was sophisticated, with complex flavors and complicated ingredients often requiring days of preparation. These recipes all had one thing in common—they did not enhance the poultry experience. Perhaps it was the comfort food factor (which was most certainly lacking) or perhaps it was that those fancy stuffing’s really weren’t all that great! Whatever the reason, my family is happier now that I’ve stopped experimenting and returned to my culinary roots.

This stuffing tastes best with a blend of breads. My choice of breads usually includes Anadama, Oatmeal, White, and Whole Wheat. The weekend before Thanksgiving my bread machine is working overtime churning them out. Although homemade bread is what I use, it’s not a requirement for success. The most important attribute of the bread is that it be firm. Do not use soft bread, what I call "puffo" bread—bread that collapses or sticks to itself when you squeeze it. Artisanal bread can be used as one of the breads, but its texture tends to be too hard and dry to be the only bread used in the stuffing. On careful observation of some of the photographs you will notice that the quantities shown are not those suggested in the recipe below. This is because some of the photographs are from Thanksgiving when we stuffed an 18 pound bird. They are being used here for "how to" purposes.

Notes: On the food borne illness front—NEVER EVER, EVER stuff a bird more than a few minutes before putting it in the oven, it is one of those things that quite simply cannot, under any circumstances be done in advance. Or, put the cooked bird into the refrigerator without removing the stuffing. On the roasting front--Be sure to add 5 minutes per pound for a stuffed bird. Depending on the size this will be between 20 to 45 minutes.

New England Comfort Bread Stuffing
Stuffs a 6 pound bird
6 ½ inch thick slices bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped
1 large tart apple, cored and very coarsely chopped
½ c. dried cranberries
1 Tbsp fresh marjoram, or 1 tsp. dried (not ground)
¼ c. chopped fresh Parsley
1 tsp. kosher salt
A good grind of black pepper

Put the bread cubes into a large bowl, and set aside.

Place a heavy (preferably cast iron skillet) on the stove. Pour in a
bout 2 tbsps. olive oil. When the oil
is hot, add the onions and celery. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the remaining ingredientsand cook until the herbs are wilted. Scrape into the bowl with the bread cubes. Mix well.

Stuff the neck cavity first. When sufficiently stuffed, pull the neck skin flap down over the spine and secure with a small metal skewer. Fill the abdominal cavity. Do not over fill as the stuffing will expand as it cooks. When basting the bird, be sure to “baste” the stuffing.
Any stuffing that does not fit into the bird can be put into a buttered casserole dish and baked separately.

Pour enough chicken or vegetable stock over the stuffing to moisten it slightly. Bake at 325 with the chicken until the top is browned and crispy. Cover with foil to prevent over-browning.
See my earlier post “The Hallmark of a Good Cook” for roasting instructions.

After transferring the roasted bird to a platter, remove the metal skewer holding the neck flap in place. The stuffing can be removed from the bird to a serving dish, or can be served directly from the bird at the table.


  1. I'll bet the Victorians objected to "stuffing" because it hinted at the bird's anatomy. We are, after all, talking about people who put covers on piano legs and came up with "dark" and "white" meat so that women would never have to say the word "breast."

  2. Oh, they most assuredly objected to "stuffing" due some perceived anatomical allusion.