What’s your favorite part of Thanksgiving? While some say family and friends, here at Paula’s Test Kitchen, we say our favorite part is the dressing! Forget the pies and turkey for now, and take a moment to find out how to make your best stuffing ever!
To stuff or not to stuff? That is the question.
Some families prefer to stuff their birds with the delicious bready filling, while other bake it off in a casserole dish. This is one of the biggest debates of the season (well, not really, I guess only if you’re a food nerd like us) and this debate even has a good ol’ North versus South argument. Traditionally, Southerners make dressing, which is cooked outside of the bird in a baking dish, while Northerners make stuffing, which is cooked inside of the bird. There are pros and cons of both. Some say that dressing isn’t as moist or doesn’t have as rich as a flavor as stuffing, which gets additional flavor from being cooked inside the bird. To that we say: you’re just not making it right!
In fact, the safest place to bake dressing (or stuffing) is outside of the bird in a baking dish. Juices that may carry bacteria such as salmonella can bake into the stuffing and it’s very hard to “cook out” the bacteria without completely overcooking and drying out your bird. (For those of you that cook the stuffing inside the bird, make sure you cook it until a thermometer reaches 165 degrees once stuck in the center of the stuffing).
Also, another point in the stuffing versus dressing debate, that you’ve probably even noticed yourself just from reading the last few paragraphs, is that these two terms are often used interchangeably. We read in our research that at some point in the 19th century, when the world was a pure and pious place, people started using the word dressing because the term stuffing was considered too vulgar. If they could only hear some of the words we use today!
Follow Paula’s Brilliant Tips for Success
One important lesson Paula has taught all of us here in the test kitchen is that Thanksgiving is not the day for kitchen shortcuts, especially when it comes to preparing Paula’s famous Southern Cornbread Stuffing. But not to worry, advanced planning and preparation will make the big day seem like a breeze and we promise, not one bead of sweat will form on your brow! Make the cornbread and stock the weekend before Thanksgiving, then you can prepare the dressing the night before the feast, and all that’s left is baking it off on Thanksgiving day.
Another essential “Paula-ism” is to always make your own cornbread. Sure, you can buy cornbread crumbles nowadays at almost every grocery store in town, but if you really want to wow your guests, start with this simple recipe.
The next most important step in making a fantastic dressing is making your own stock. Stock is considered the building block of great cooking. It imparts a beautiful and rich flavor that’s all natural. The water takes on the essence, flavor, and body of its ingredients. We promise that by making your own, it will take your dressing to a whole other level. The recipe below should make a big enough batch that you can use it to make your gravy as well.
And our final tip for the big day: good ingredients make for good food. Things are tight everywhere in our country right now but buy the best you can afford on Thanksgiving because your family and friends are worth it.
Here’s our Basic Chicken Stock Recipe:
Yields 2 quarts
4 1/2 pounds wings, backs, and necks from uncooked chickens
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped into quarters
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 medium stalks of celery, chopped into 1 inch pieces
8 sprigs parsley
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 dried bay leaves
4 1/2 quarts cold water
Rinse chicken under cold water and add the chicken parts to a large heavy bottomed stockpot. Add cold water to cover chicken. Bring the water slowly to a boil then reduce to a bare simmer. There should be very few gentle bubbles bursting on the surface of the water. Skim the surface of the stock to get rid of the impurities.
Add the onions, carrots, celery, parsley, peppercorns, and bay leaves to the pot. Continue to simmer the stock for 3 hours, skimming occasionally.
Strain the stock through a paper towel lined colander into a large bowl. Carefully discard the hot solids. Let cool. Place in refrigerator for 12 hours to allow fat to rise to the top. Skim fat off and discard. Divide between freezer safe containers. Freeze for up to 3 months.
So, what do you call it, dressing or stuffing? Which will you make for your friends and family this year? Let us know below in the comments!