Just Like Mom’s Stuffing

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The Thanksgiving meal is really a gastronomical walk down memory lane for many of us. It’s less about the latest, most innovative or exotic concoction (though those can be fun, too) and more about creating and savoring the best renditions of favorite recipes and flavors from years past. At many tables, the feast wouldn’t be complete without a marshmallow fruit salad or the green bean casserole. We want the feast to be memorable, but also what I’ll call memory-ful.

One dish that always made Thanksgiving for me was my mom’s stuffing. Those flavors connected the celebration, family, and foods from year to year. However, in my own cooking, I have recently grown weary of the task of making sure the stuffing in the bird reaches a safe temperature. And not being much of a talent in the turkey-roasting department, I’ve grown to prefer cooking the turkey and stuffing separately, where they each cook faster and can be monitored more easily.

However, creating a dressing (cooked outside the bird) that stayed true to the delicious memory had challenges, too. Often dressings bake up dry and sometimes bitter or harsh. To avoid that, it took some tinkering with my mom’s basic ingredients of bread cubes, rice, butter, onion, celery, and seasonings as well as with how to bake what would now be a casserole.

The first key to getting clean, fresh flavor here was starting with a blank canvas—plain bread cubes. I bought some pre-made from my local grocery store bakery but you can also toast your own or buy a packaged brand. From there, a blend of wild and brown rice (such as Lundberg brand’s Wild Blend) adds a contrasting texture and earthy flavor. Using two eggs and generous amounts of good-quality stock (aim for organic low-sodium if not using homemade) plus any turkey pan drippings you can spare deliver the moisture and more flavor, which also gets a boost from a generous application of homemade poultry seasoning.

Yes, homemade poultry seasoning. It indeed made a huge difference in the flavor and it takes just minutes to make—and both these aspects made me very happy. You might already have most of the ingredients for it in your spice cabinet, but if not, many are available in small containers. Grind them together using a pestle or a food processor, and that’s it. You can make the seasoning ahead, and there will be some leftover that you can use for your turkey.

Speaking of making in advance, the three magic words for holiday dishes, this dressing can be assembled and refrigerated for a few hours until ready to bake. Then it just takes about 30 minutes, so you can pop it in when the turkey comes out to rest.

A quick aside about salt—you will get plenty of sodium if you use store-bought stocks or broths, plus if you are roasting a kosher or brined turkey, the drippings could also be somewhat salty. I ended up not adding much salt to my dressing, but you can add more to the recipe depending on your taste preferences and ingredients.

The beauty of stuffings and dressings is that they also hold up pretty well to additions or substitutions. You can use this recipe as a starting point, then add those chestnuts if it wouldn’t be dressing to you without them. Use vegetable stock and olive oil for a vegetarian version. Throw in some dried cranberries if dried fruit is a must.

Back to my version. When I thought I finally had it down, I presented a small plate of my latest test run to the ultimate judge. She gave it two thumbs up, and even took home some leftovers (thanks, Mom!). And so starting this year, this stuffing/dressing takes its place at our Thanksgiving table.

Best wishes to all for a memorable and memory-ful holiday feast!



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