Stuffing is a mixture which is used to fill the insides of poultry, rolled-up meat, fish, seafood or vegetables.
In British, Irish and North American tradition, Stuffing is usually based on white bread (it was the default use for stale bread), usually includes onions and herbs such as sage for seasoning, and can include meat, vegetables, mushrooms and nuts. Other starches such as rice or potato are also used from time to time for variety.
There are a thousand and one variations of how Stuffing can be made, and as many arguments over what constitutes a good Stuffing. Many of the recipes are very elaborate. Germans prefer Stuffing made with potatoes and fruits (such as apples and raisins.) Southern US cooks may use cornbread for the bread. In coastal areas of North America and Europe, oysters are often used in dressings.
And there’s no reason for something defined as Stuffing to even have to include a starch. Some Stuffings have so much meat in them that they almost become what is known as “forcemeat.” Italians, for instance, prefer meat Stuffings. There’s probably no reason not to include as well in the broad category of “Stuffing” the cheese fillings that go into baked pasta such as Cannelloni.
Stuffing is always highly flavourful. The idea is that the seasoning will pass into the inner cavity of what it is that you are cooking. As well, fat in the Stuffing, such as butter or meat, would help keep the inside of the bird moist.
You can buy commercial Stuffing / dressing mixes in stores. They are meant to be either used as Stuffing or cooked on top of the stove. These tend to mostly be bread based, and tend to be more expensive than making your own.
Dressing is like Stuffing, but is cooked on the side in its own dish.
Many people feel that if “Stuffing” is baked outside the bird,then by definition it’s not Stuffing — you can call it Dressing if you wish, but it wasn’t stuffed in, then there was no “Stuffing” that happened. They also tend to feel that “Dressing” misses the whole purpose of Stuffing, which is to help flavour the meat inside. Nor will the Dressing in turn taste as good itself, because it hasn’t been inside the meat to absorb the juices.
Provided that no raw meat has come near this Dressing that will be baked outside your meat, it doesn’t really need to be cooked for a long time. It only needs to be heated, (unless you have added things such as uncooked onion, apple, mushroom etc that you would like to be cooked in it.) It’s best to lightly fry these things first.
Cooking Dressing can be problematic. Too often, it can go crunchy and dry. It needs lots of broth or water in it, and should be covered during cooking to keep the moisture in.
There is much nonsense these days about it being unsafe to cook Stuffing inside a bird, especially larger ones such as turkeys. With half the populace frightened out of their wits, we get instead a dry, rock-hard, horrid crouton casserole cooked as a side dish on its own in the oven. Feh. A meat thermometer will solve all these problems. Just take it out and brandish it at these killjoys like a magic wand, and poof, they will disappear.
You will want to also make sure your Stuffing is at room temperature before you stuff the bird (if you’ve made the Stuffing ahead.) This will help ensure that no dangerous temperature zones exist inside the bird, and that the Stuffing gets a chance to cook without having to overcook the meat to get extra heat through to the Stuffing. Health Authorities now tell us not to let the bird sit overnight stuffed uncooked in the fridge (even though our grandmothers did, and we lived). Though you can buy them already stuffed like this at stores, at home we can’t match the sanitary conditions they do commercially. So don’t let a bird sit around with Stuffing in it: stuff the bird just before roasting, then get it in the oven.
If cooked inside meat, fish or seafood, Stuffing needs to be cooked to reach the same temperature as is safe for that meat, as the Stuffing will have absorbed raw juices from the meat. If you are cooking a vegetable stuffed with a meat Stuffing, then the vegetable needs to be cooked to reach the safe temperature for either the meat in the Stuffing or for what you have stuffed it into, whichever minimum temperature is higher.
All stuffed meats will require a longer cooking time than unstuffed meats. Allow stuffed birds an extra 15 to 30 minutes cooking time.
To measure the temperature of Stuffing, insert your instant-read meat thermometer right inside into the Stuffing. Inside poultry, the temperature of Stuffing should reach 165 F (74 C).
As a rough rule of thumb, allow 1/2 cup of Stuffing per each pound of bird (450g) you are Stuffing.
Have a spoon with a long-handle handy to scoop the Stuffing out of the bird when it is time to serve. Have a box of dried-out croutons handy as well to serve to the killjoys.
The word “stuffing” first appeared in print in 1538. In the late 1800s, it was thought that the term was indelicate, and people started calling it “dressing”, whether it was inside the bird or out.