Homemade Stuffing for the Holidays
If You Can Sing "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme," You Can Make Stuffing from Scratch. Stuffing. Ahhhh. Maybe my favorite part of my favorite holiday. Growing up with four siblings, stuffing disappeared the fastest and was the most worth fighting over when it came to leftovers (if there were any). Who doesn't love stuffing? When I lived in
Growing up in a large household, my parents wisely took some shortcuts when it came to cooking. And stuffing was one of them. I never had honest-to-goodness homemade stuffing until I was all grown up and discovered how to make it myself. What a thrill to realize how easy it is. And the rewards are GREAT—when you serve it, be sure to mention you made it from scratch. You will hear oohs and ahhs. No store-bought stuffing mix can compare in any dimension. You too can do this—have confidence. Stuffing is so simple to prepare, you will wonder why you never thought of doing it yourself before now.
One last note: I dined at a friend's house for a holiday party recenlty. He was so excited to have made stuffing from scratch, but it was the most gosh-awful stuff you ever tasted. He had just tossed in the celery and tossed in the other ingredients--with NO sautéeing, no herbs, no butter, and no chicken stock. The stuff he called stuffing was dreadful, pasty bread bits with hard chunks of celery. Don't let this happen to you.
Basically, stuffing is comprised of two steps: “Creating the Croutons” and “Sautéing the Savories.” And you hardly need a recipe. Once you know how to do it, you can whip stuffing up easily with no props. Are you ready? YOU CAN DO THIS!
Creating the Croutons
Take a loaf of bread that you find delicious—ones loaded with nuts and whole grains are wonderful for stuffing. Sourdough works great too. Anything but white bread (too fluffy—needs to be a bit sturdier). I'm a fanatic—I make loaves of "stuffing" bread to use (chock full of fresh herbs). But pick a bread you already like. Day-old bread is fine too. You will need about eight cups worth of croutons. If the loaf of bread is large, you may not need the whole loaf.
Cut sliced bread into strips and then again crosswise into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes. Place the croutons on a baking sheet without overlapping, if possible. Toast lightly in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Scoop all the croutons into a large bowl.
Sautéing the Savories
Chop up one large onion (sweet ones like Walla-walla or Vidalia are especially yummy for this) and about 6~8 stalks of celery (slice each stalk lengthwise first and then crosswise to make smaller pieces). Sauté the onions and celery in 6~8 tablespoons butter (use butter unabashedly, but start with the lesser amount and see if it needs more later, depending on the quantity of croutons you have), along with the following herbs (fresh if you can get them, and chopped coarsely): Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. Does that sound familiar? It's part of the refrain from a Simon and Garfunkle song, Scarborough Fair. Yup. It's the herbal code for stuffing (and poultry seasoning). If you have a choice of parsley, use Italian flat leaf instead of the curly kind—but fresh is always preferable to dried. How much of each herb to use? Fresh, maybe 3 tablespoons each. Dried, maybe 1 tablespoon each. It's important to sauté the herbs so that the fragrance and flavor get infused. Add in about 1/2 cup of dried cranberries if you have them (makes it irresistible—sautéing plumps them). Once the onions are slightly translucent and no longer crunchy, remove from the stove.
Stir this sautéed herb mixture into the croutons. Add about 1 cup of chicken broth—slowly—so that you can gauge when to stop adding. (Keep jars of all-natural chicken stock concentrate in the fridge for uses such as these. I recommend “Better Than Bouillon” brand, by Superior Touch. You can get it at Trader Joe’s or other high-end grocers. Cubed bouillon is too salty and has too much artificial stuff, along with MSG. Chicken stock that comes in cans and cartons is good but too pricey.) This is the trickiest part—if you add too much broth, the stuffing becomes mushy. Too little and it's chokingly dry. Just right is slightly moist, with mouth “give.” Just right is not too crumbly and holds up on the plate. Add salt to taste (I especially recommend Vege-sal vegetable salt). And more melted butter, if needed. Toss lightly and serve as is or use about half to stuff bird. Keeps well for several days.
— You can add variations for fun: toasted chopped nuts (pine nuts are fabulous, macadamias are decadent, chestnuts if you can get them, almonds if they are slivered thinly), chopped dried fruit such as apricots (go easy on the fruit and cut it small), other herbs such as marjoram or tarragon, etc.
— Some folks love cornbread stuffing. To make it, add chopped pork sausage to the sauté and use crumbled homemade cornbread (not that sweet kind like they serve at Boston Market—eyuck!) instead of wheat bread.
— Be sure not to use Pyrex when toasting your croutons in the oven. Like a doofus, I used a Pyrex pan as an overflow and voila! It exploded. I'm not the first person to have this experience, lest you laugh at me. I did a quick search and found an entire page on ConsumerAffairs.com dedicated to people who've had exploding Pyrex experiences. Just use a standard baking pan and you will be fine.