With the holidays around the corner, many of us will head to the store and buy ingredients for a most delicious holiday meal. It might be turkey, or goose, or even prime rib, but then you’re going to travel down an aisle with shelves full of stuffing in a box, and you might think to yourself, “I’ll grab a couple of those; it’ll be easier.” I’m here to tell you, “Don’t do it!” Stuffing can be the most straightforward recipe, and whether you put it in your turkey or cook it on the stovetop or even bake it in the oven, homemade stuffing is way better than that box of false promises.
I would hazard a guess that we have all had stuffing (or dressing) at one time in our lives. Maybe you recall a time when you would spend a holiday meal with a large family gathering, and someone would stuff the turkey before cooking at some early hour so that the stuffing would get the turkey flavouring. I recall meals like that when I was younger, but these days it seems like we can’t do anything that we used to do. The USDA and Health Canada have recommended not stuffing the turkey because of possible food-borne illness. But I have a way to combat that recommendation and get to stuff your bird.
The concern, as I mentioned, is that you’ll get food poisoning if you stuff your turkey with cold stuffing. It comes from having an ideal temperature range that scientists have stated is the “safe zone.” Cooks around the world have widely accepted that between the temperatures of 4°C to 60°C (40°F-140°F) bacteria thrive, the best of both worlds being 20-25°C. If we think about it, those here, despite being born in this sometimes arctic country, prefer a warmer climate. 20 – 25°C is the perfect temperature for me. It’s warm enough that you can wear shorts and a t-shirt, but not too hot that you can also wear jeans and a hoodie (Bunny hug for those of you in Saskatchewan). If most of us feel that way, then logically, the bacteria that likes us would also prefer those temperatures, multiplying quickly.
When you cook food above 60°C (140°F), bacterial pathogens start to die, and when you keep food below 4°C (40°F), it’s too cold for them to spread quickly. Health Canada recommends cooking poultry (including turkeys) to ~80°C (180°F), that’s the final temperature. They also suggest cooking that stuffing to 74°C (165°F). You might be thinking, that is possible! Why would I need to worry about this? The answer is stuffed birds cook slower than open ones. In contrast, the outside of the bird might hit 74*79°C (165-175°F); it’s possible that the stuffing does not.
The hack, if you will, is to start with already par-cooked stuffing. If you have mostly cooked the stuffing beforehand and let it cool so it can be handled, your stuffing will hit the recommended temperature by the time the bird does. We can usually hold items of body temperature, 37°C (~98.6°F), allow the stuffing to cool until it can be handled; you have given yourself a head start. Now you can cook that turkey and still get its juices into the stuffing. The alternative to this method is to cook the stuffing until the turkey is ready, remove it from the bird, and continue cooking until the final temperature is 74°C (165°F).
I wrote earlier not to be tempted by grabbing that store boxed stuffing because it is easy, so here is my recipe for easy stuffing. Feel free to play this a bit, add craisins or walnuts, apricots or whatever your heart desires for some added texture, or don’t add anything else; that’s ok too.
Stuffing – Approximately Six Servings
6 cups cubed dried bread (store-bought plain croutons are perfect)
2 cups chicken broth
1 medium onion (any colour) – peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery – diced
2 carrots – peel and diced
1 tbsp Poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper
- If your bread isn’t dry already, place it single-layered on a baking sheet and leave it overnight to stale.
- Over medium heat, melt the butter.
- Add the carrots, celery and onions and cook until they are soft. The onions should be translucent.
- Add the poultry seasoning and a couple of pinches of salt. Give it a taste to see if it’s good.
- Add 1 cup of the broth and bring to a simmer.
- Add the cubed bread to a large bowl.
- Pour the veg and brother over the breadcrumbs and let them soak up the liquid.
- Add more broth until you get it to the moisture you want; keep in mind some will evaporate as you cook the stuffing.
- If you think of putting this in a turkey, return everything to a pot or fry pan and cook for ten more minutes over medium heat. Allow it to cool until you can handle it and place it in your Turkey before entering the oven.
- If you are cooking this separately, cook for 30-40 minutes covered in tinfoil.
- Remove the foil and cook for up to another 30 minutes if you want it to have some crispness.
- Enjoy your holiday feast!