Chef Rob's Stuffing Tips
Holiday stuffing tips for the perfect holiday dinner
The holiday season has crept upon us again, and as our thoughts begin to focus on the inevitable turkey dinner, I can’t help but be reminded of all the dry and flavourless stuffing’s I have had to endure over the years. Store-bought, pre-packaged stuffing is convenient, quick and easy, but let’s be honest, there is no way they compare to a good homemade stuffing.
In this article I am going to give you some pointers on how to make a stuffing that will amaze your guests — and maybe even shine brighter than the turkey on the dining room table.
First, plan on making the stuffing the day before. We all know that stuffing is better the day after you first serve it, so plan it that way. The reason for this is that as the food sits overnight, there is time for all the flavours to come together, blend and coalesce into a cohesive dish.
Having said that, if you plan to “rest” your stuffing, you have to keep in mind that it might dry out. However, the solution to prevent this is simple; before you store it in the fridge for the night, add some extra liquid. Whether it is stock, water or wine, just give it a healthy shower before you wrap it up and it will stay moist as you re-heat it the next day.
Your choice for bread is also pretty important. If you like a soft, moist stuffing, make sure to use fresh bread. If you prefer your stuffing a little more firm, dice and dry your bread before making the stuffing. The dried cubes will be less susceptible to absorbing liquid, and will stay a little drier during the cooking process.
If you really want to make a nice soft, moist and rich stuffing, add a little bit of mashed potato to your mix. It is a bit of extra work to make the mashed potato, but it adds a great depth and richness to your stuffing that will set it apart from anyone else’s.
Now that we have addressed the texture, we need to talk about flavour. This is where you have to remember the basics of great cooking: Fresh herbs, homemade stock, low cooking temperatures, some form of alcohol (for the food as well as yourself), fresh local ingredients and (most importantly) enjoy your time in the kitchen. Cook with love and your guests will know it.
There is a broad range of flavourings that you can add to a stuffing to make it great. The key is to start with your bread. Do you like plain white baguette or multigrain? Add some good stock, chicken for lighter flavoured breads, and beef for more dense, heavily flavoured ones.
Next comes your herbs. Lighter stuffing’s require more delicate herbs like chives, basil, thyme, cilantro and parsley. Rich stuffing’s can handle rosemary, sage, oregano and marjoram.
I like to put cheese in my stuffing so the same rules apply. Cheddar, mozzarella, feta or young bries work well for light stuffing, heavy stuffing benefits from asiago, old cheddars and bries, blue cheeses, havarti and swiss.
Adding nuts to your stuffing not only adds flavour, but a great crunch — which is great for waking up your taste buds. Try some pine nuts, walnuts or pecans; they all work well with any kind of stuffing. Personally, I love the sweetness of roasted fruits, and like to fold in some apples or pears to really give it a great full flavour. If you like a little bit of smoky flavour, dice some bacon, cook it slowly and add the bacon and its fat to your mixture.
So start with this blueprint, choose flavours that you like and put them together in a stuffing. Just remember to start with a mirepoix (one part diced carrots, one part diced celery and two parts diced onion), cook everything slowly and use the best quality ingredients you can get.
Do this and I promise yours will be better than any pre-packaged stuffing from the grocery store.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and happy entertaining!
Roberto “Frac” Fracchioni is an award-winning executive chef at The Millcroft Inn & Spa in Alton and the host of “Country Cooking” on Rogers TV Channel 63. Please visit the dining page at www.millcroft.com to review his menus and read his bio.