To dress or to stuff?
This age old question plagues home cooks prepping for poultry roasting everywhere. From the title of this post you know what side I landed on, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at the pros and cons, shall we?
The Pros and Cons of Stuffing Your Bird:
- All the savory, lovely juices and grease from the bird suffuse the stuffing, making it delicious.
- It’s how your mom did it.
- The bird takes longer to cook
- The bird might cook unevenly
- Some say stuffing the bird dries it out
- It’s harder to get a good internal temp reading while cooking
- When the bird comes out of the oven, you have to handle its hot greasiness to get the stuffing out to serve it.
- You don’t know if the stuffing is the right hydration or consistency until it comes out of the bird
Do you see why I have gravitated to making dressing, rather than stuffing?
“BUT THE FLAVOR!” You scream. “You just can’t GET THAT BIRD JUICE FLAVOR IF YOU DON’T STUFF THE BIRD!”
You’re wrong. You can. You 100% totally can.
The secret to having your dressing and eating it too is two-fold.
- You need to have real, honest-to-god homemade roasted turkey stock on hand. I have a recipe for that and it’s totally worth the trouble.
- You have to have some schmaltz on hand. What’s schmaltz? Rendered poultry fat, usually from skin.
#2 is a little bit not necessary, though. If you have some really good quality butter you’re going to be just fine. But that stock is non-negotiable. Chicken broth out of a can or turkey broth out of a box Will. Not. Do. Period. This stock is how I can substantiate my claim that, though the dressing is not stuffed in the bird, it will taste as though it was.
Now that we have established that I am right and poultry stuffers are wrong (who’s judging?) Let’s talk about what makes a really really good dressing.
What Makes a Good Turkey Dressing?
Historically, dressing and other starches-soaked-in-meat juices were meant to extend the very small amount of meat most folks could afford.
But now that 24 lb birds that no reasonably sized family could ever hope to finish have become commonplace and affordable, what’s the purpose of dressing (or stuffing?)
As a hard-core carb lover (turkey just extends the dressing for me) I would argue that the dressing dish has risen in prominence in terms of what people look forward to at Thanksgiving or whenever else roast fowl is served.
It’s new station demands of it several things. It has to be texturally intricate, complexly flavored and provide elements found in no other dish on the table. It’s also got to look good- after all, it’s not being scooped out of a turkey’s ass anymore. It’s a presented thing unto itself.
Bottom line? Stovetop brand bread mush ain’t gonna do it people. Gotta up your game.
After combing through about 20 different dressing recipes, I came across one that I really liked. It was a sourdough and walnut dressing that called for sourdough that “wasn’t too tangy.”
I was like, well sourdough is having a moment right now, and I bet bunches of quarantine bakers have gotten good enough at it that they can make their own and control the tangy-ness. Why not?
Personally? I’m a fan of tangy and I was curious about what would happen if I used a nice, pungent loaf. So I did. I also substituted chestnuts for walnuts, because they bring a really lovely sweetness that, in theory, would balance out all that tang.
The result was far, far better than I expected. Like. Miles above what I expected. I would cook and eat this at least 150 of 365 days of the year if I thought I wouldn’t blow up like a blimp if I did. It is so. Damn. Good.
So here’s how it goes!
Chestnut Sourdough Turkey Dressing RecipeCourse: SidesCuisine: AmericanDifficulty: Easy
This dressing ticks off all the boxes. The stock and schmaltz make it taste exactly like it came out of an actual bird, without all the issues and hassle of actually stuffing the bird. The sourdough and the chestnuts combine to make this amazing sweet/tangy flavor that really brightens up the whole meal. The texture is soft and spongy on the bottom and nice and crispy on the top, thanks to the bake-and-broil method. It will be the best dressing you ever put in your face.
133 g (½ cup) schmaltz or really good butter
366 g onion, finely chopped
150g celery, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tbsp fresh sage
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
12 oz peeled chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 lb. sourdough loaf, cubed and toasted
475 ml (2 cups) roast turkey stock
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
- Melt the schmaltz or butter over medium heat and sweat the onions and celery until they are translucent, but not browning
- Add the thyme, sage, and rosemary and chestnuts and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes
- Remove from heat and toss in breadcrumbs. If your pan isn’t big enough, you can do this in a bowl. Toss thoroughly so that all the fat is absorbed into the bread and the mixture is cool
- Whisk the eggs into the turkey stock and drizzle over the bread crumbs, ensuring that it is evenly absorbed by tossing as you add it.
- Pour dressing into a 9×13 greased casserole.* Cover and bake for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Finish under a broiler to crisp up the top
- * At this stage, the whole thing can be tossed into a fridge overnight if you’re making it the day ahead. Just make sure you take it out about an hour before you bake it to bring it up to room temp so it bakes quickly. You can actually make this while the turkey is resting so it’s all hot at the same time.