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 (stuffing 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.
As a rough rule of thumb, allow ½ cup of stuffing per each pound (500 g) of bird 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.
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.
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).
All stuffed meats will require a longer cooking time than unstuffed meats. Allow stuffed birds an extra 15 to 30 minutes cooking time.
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.
When stuffing a bird, ensure that your stuffing is at least at room temperature (if you’ve made the stuffing ahead and refrigerated it.) This will help reduce the extra cooking time needed to get the proper heat through to the stuffing.
In fact, Cooks Illustrated now even recommends that you heat your stuffing before stuffing your bird (or joint of meat):
“Most of the time, we [Ed: Cooks Illustrated] roast unstuffed birds. Cooking the stuffing in a stuffed bird to a safe internal temperature takes quite a while and usually results in overcooked meat. If it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a stuffed turkey on your table, you can reduce the roasting time (and the risk of dry turkey) by heating the stuffing before spooning it into the cavity of the turkey. Heat the stuffing in the microwave on high power until very hot (120 to 130 degrees) [50 to 55 C], or 6 to 8 minutes.” Hays, Rebecca. How to brine a turkey. Cooks Illustrated. 1 November 2004. Accessed January 2020 at https://www.cooksillustrated.com/articles/36-how-to-brine-a-turkey
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.
|↑1||Hays, Rebecca. How to brine a turkey. Cooks Illustrated. 1 November 2004. Accessed January 2020 at https://www.cooksillustrated.com/articles/36-how-to-brine-a-turkey|