To Stuff or Not to Stuff – That is the Question

By: Anne Hynes

A brief survey of the Sanagan's kitchen staff reveals that the 'best' part of the Thanksgiving meal is the stuffing. There is something both satisfying and decadent about it. Even though it is very easy to make it is usually reserved for special occasions like the holidays. There are very few rules about what ingredients are used – bread or rice (for a gluten-free option), textural elements like onion, fruits and nuts, herbs like parsley, sage and summer savoury (a must according to East Coasters), and possibly meats like sausage or giblets – it is up to you. Just make sure it is well seasoned.

The big question though is whether to stuff the bird or not. What to consider when stuffing the cavity is that poultry can have harmful bacteria on its surface, which will be killed by cooking it to 165 ˚F. Making sure that the stuffing is completely cold before being put inside the bird is important because bacteria thrive in warm moist environments.  This is why the poultry should be stuffed just before putting it in the oven.  Also, do not over stuff the cavity, as it will take longer for the stuffing to come up to temperature, which could mean over cooking the turkey. Taking the internal temperature of the stuffing, as well as the turkey, with an insta-read thermometer is a must if you go this route.

An alternative approach is to cook the stuffing separately in a greased casserole, during the last hour of roasting your poultry, covered for 45 minutes and uncovered for the last 15 minutes. To remedy the loss of juice from the bird, a few tablespoons of pan drippings can be stirred in before serving.  Or, do what one of my favourite chefs, Ted Aleck, does and cook a few extra turkey thighs or wings overtop the stuffing so that you get that more intense flavour and extra dark meat. This way there will definitely be enough for seconds!

Here is the Traditional Stuffing recipe that we make at the store. If you don't have time to make your own, place an order for some when you order your turkey as it sells out quickly!

Sanagan's Traditional Stuffing

4 cups crust-less sourdough bread, 1 inch dice (approximately 1 loaf)

1 cup onion, minced

2 stalks celery, ¼ inch dice

1 medium carrot, ¼ inch dice

2 tbsp butter

1 - 1½  cup chicken or turkey stock

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

1 tsp sage, finely chopped

½ tsp thyme, finely chopped

½ tsp rosemary, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

- Preheat oven to 375˚.

- Melt butter over medium heat and cook carrots, celery and onion until tender but not brown. Let cool slightly.

- Place bread cubes in a large bowl and add vegetables and chopped herbs.

- Start by adding 1 cup of stock and mix into bread mixture, pressing bread into liquid to absorb but not letting it disintegrate. Add more stock if needed. Season mixture liberally with salt and pepper.

- Spread mixture evenly on to a parchment lined baking tray. Cook for 10 minutes, then rotate tray and cook until bread starts to get brown around the edges, about another 5 – 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before checking the seasoning.

- Let cool completely before using.

Recipe makes enough to stuff one medium sized turkey or 2 chickens (approximately 8 servings).

Roast Turkey with Stuffing Recipe

Here’s Peter’s step-by-step guide to Thanksgiving turkey. Plan ahead, follow these instructions and your friends and family will be giving thanks all night long.

For the turkey:

1 turkey – the size depends on how many people you’re serving, but an average bird is about 15 lbs and feeds around 8-10 people1 brine kit – you can make your own but we sell a kit that has sugar and salt already measured out to mix with 4 liters of water

For the stuffing:

4 cups of good stale bread, diced (best to dice it the day before and leave them out to dry)
½ lb butter
giblets from the turkey, finely chopped
liver from the turkey, finely chopped
2 large cooking onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground allspice
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh sage, leaves picked and sliced
½ cup madeira (or port) (optional)
1-2 cups turkey or chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

For the compound butter:

1 lb butter, unsalted
1 bunch sage, leaves picked and chopped
1 bunch thyme, leaves picked and chopped
1 bunch chives, chopped
1 tbsp ground allspice
½ cup madeira (or port)
salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cooking fat (from the turkey)
turkey neck, chopped into smaller chunks
2 shallots, finely diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 bay leaves
4 stalks of thyme
4 stalks of sage
4 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cup white wine (one is for deglazing the roasting pan)
3 cups dark turkey or chicken stock

The night before:

Boil 4 liters of water and add the brine mix. Make sure the salt and sugar dissolves, then turn the burner off and allow the brine to cool for an hour at least.

Remove the giblets, liver and neck from the cavity of the turkey (usually these are in the neck cavity) and reserve for the next day. Place the turkey inside of the vessel you are going to use to brine the bird (make sure you have enough room in your fridge to store the bird). If you are using a bag place the turkey in a bag and then in a bowl – this will help prevent the brine leaking out of the bag. Pour the cooled brine over the turkey, ensuring that the whole bird is surrounded by liquid. Place the bird in the fridge for at least 12-15 hours (or one hour per pound).

Make the compound butter:

Cut the butter into slices and lay out on a plate at room temperature. This will help the butter soften. Meanwhile, mix the chopped herbs, allspice, and madeira with freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. When the butter is soft, add it to the bowl with the other ingredients and using a spatula, fold them all together. Shape the butter into a rectangle and place in the fridge to set overnight.

The day of:

Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry.

Make your stuffing:

In a large sauce pot, melt the butter over a medium low heat. Add the onion and the bay leaves, cover with a lid and sweat the onion for 15 minutes (stirring frequently), or until the onions start to change colour slightly. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the giblets and liver and cook for another five minutes, then add the celery, carrots, allspice, nutmeg, sage, salt, and pepper. Turn the heat up slightly and sauté everything together, stirring frequently until the celery is starting to take on a bit of colour. Add the madeira (if using) and reduce by half. Add 1.5 cups of stock, bring to a simmer, then pour the mixture on top of the diced bread. Mix thoroughly. If you find the mixture too dry add a little more stock.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Method:

For the turkey:

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Lift up the skin at the front of each breast and use your fingers to make a pocket between the skin and the breast meat. Cut the compound butter into 1/2 inch slices and slide the slices under the skin so they cover the breast. Stuff the cavity of the bird with the bread stuffing. Place the turkey in a roasting pan on top of a rack. If you don’t have a rack, line the bottom of the roasting pan with large chunks of onion and carrot and set the turkey on top of those. Season the bird with salt and pepper and drizzle enough vegetable oil to cover the skin. Place in the middle rack of oven and roast for 4.5-5 hours, or until an internal thermometer plunged into the thigh of the turkey reads 180°F, and the breast or stuffing should read 165°F. Remove from oven, lift the turkey from the roasting pan and let rest on a cutting board while make the gravy. Wrap the turkey in tin foil, then a tea towel to keep warm while it rests.

For the gravy:

Tilt the roasting pan slightly to allow you to skim the fat off the top of the drippings, reserving two tbsp. Place the roasting pan on an element on medium low heat and add one cup of white wine. As it simmers scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to lift up all of the bits of caramelized roasting juices. Turn the heat off and set aside. In a separate saucepan over a medium heat, melt the butter with the reserved fat. Add the turkey neck. Once brown, add the shallots and garlic and sauté until golden. Add the flour and stir vigorously to make an aromatic roux. Add the bay leaves, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper, and then deglaze the pot with the other cup of white wine. Turn the heat down and stir constantly for about five minutes to cook the alcohol from the sauce. Add the stock, whisking to incorporate. Then add all of the drippings from the turkey pan. Simmer for five minutes to incorporate in flavours and then strain into a gravy boat.

To carve the turkey:

First, remove the stuffing from the cavity. Place some in a bowl and some on the turkey serving platter. Slice the breast meat first using clean long slices on the diagonal through each breast. Remove the whole leg by twisting the thigh away from the backbone. Separate the drumstick from the thigh. Present the drumstick on the platter leaning against the stuffing. Slice the meat away from the thigh bone and pile next to the drum meat. Fan out the breast slices next to that. Present the platter of turkey with the stuffing and gravy to your hungry (and happy) guests.