Dressing for Success

andy mueller | in the kitchen with chef andy | nov. 2017

It's easy to be overwhelmed by the thought of a hungry flock of eaters arriving Thanksgiving morning and you still have four or five things left on the prep list. The turkey's in the oven, but you miscalculated the timing because this year you stuffed it and it's not going to be done until four instead of two like you told your relatives. You also misjudged the size of your oven and because you had to take the top rack out, you now have no room for the beans, sweet potatoes or the four pies you aggressively took on this year. It's OK, that's why we start planning now.

First of all, unless you like playing Russian roulette with your guests and their health, I highly recommend you don't stuff your bird. There are two reasons for this: the first has to do with health concerns and the second, taste. When you stuff a bird, the mixture is at an optimum bacterial growth temperature as it bakes in the oven. The entire stuffing mixture must be cooked to at least 175 degrees to be safe to consume, adding lots of cooking time. By the time we're safe, your bird has been cooked far too long to remain juicy and tender. The dark meat may be palatable, but the white meat is past tennis shoe stage, inching closer to garden hose texture.

If at all possible, make dressing instead of stuffing. If it's inside the bird it's called stuffing, and if it's baked outside it's called dressing. The key to a moist and fluffy dressing lies in the liquid you add to the mix. Some type of liquid must be added to moisten the breadcrumbs, but water or stock isn't enough. You must add enough water to barely moisten the mixture, but the addition of melted fat is what makes the dressing lift up and become fluffy.

This addition of fat can come in the form of butter, natural oils from onions, carrots and celery when sautéed, or drippings from cooked ground beef or bacon. A healthier approach is to beat an egg or two and add it before you mix your dressing. If your dressing has the right amount of liquid, it should stay together nicely when you gently pinch it between your fingers.

The additions to your dressing are limited only by your imagination, and can vary from sweet to savory and everything in between. Tradition suggests using thyme, sage and nutmeg along with cooked ground beef or sausage, minced carrots, onions and celery, but consider spicing it up a bit with dried fruits like cranberries, raisins, or currants, and a few nuts like toasted pecans.

Dressed up Dressing

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Cut one pound of your favorite bread into cubes, toast until dry or use one pound dried breadcrumbs from a package. Place crumbs in large mixing bowl.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat add:

1/2 pound ground Beef

Cook until cooked through, transfer cooked meat and dripping to a bowl, set aside.

Return skillet to medium-high heat then add:

6 tablespoons butter

When melting and bubbling add:

1 cup finely diced celery

1 cup finely diced carrots

1 1/2 cups finely diced onions

Sauté for three to five minutes. Remove from the heat and add:

1 cup dried currants or craisins

3/4 cup toasted pecans or walnuts

Cooked ground beef with drippings

1 teaspoon dried sage

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

generous amount fresh ground pepper

Add cooked meat and vegetables to bowl of breadcrumbs and add:

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

2 large eggs, beaten

Mix ingredients well, add more stock if needed to moisten. Depending on how dry your breadcrumbs are, you may need to add more stock or water. Make sure you can pinch the dressing and it stays together before you bake it or it will be dry. Turn ingredients into a buttered 13 by 9 glass baking dish. Bake, covered, for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, uncover and stir dressing to disperse heat, recover and bake for another 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated through. Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes to get that awesome crust to form around the edges.

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