“Stuffing” or “dressing”? The answer may seem simple. Technically, stuffing is a seasoned bread mixture cooked in the bird, while dressing is the same mixture baked in a dish on the side. But the real difference between the two terms is actually more an indicator of where in the country this traditional American holiday dish is being served, rather than whether it’s being stuffed or not.
In the Southern U.S., the dish is almost always called dressing, and it is usually made with a cornbread base. Northerners, on the other hand, call it stuffing, and make it with regular wheat bread. This recipe is for the Northern version.
The recipe for bread stuffing is simplicity itself — just a mix of aromatic vegetables, herbs and dried bread, with broth and eggs to moisten it, and it’s very forgiving. While stuffing can be cooked inside the cavity of a turkey, duck, goose or chicken, it takes a tricky bit of timing to get the bird cooked properly all the way through. And the stuffing often turns out soggy and greasy. So this recipe sticks with the easier task of baking it in a casserole dish on the side.
8 to 10 servings
- Crusty bread, cubed or torn into pieces — 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, or about 8 cups
- Butter — 1/4 cup, or 4 tablespoons
- Onion, finely chopped — 1
- Celery, finely chopped — 2 or 3 stalks
- Fresh parsley, finely chopped — 1 bunch
- Fresh sage, finely chopped — 2 tablespoons
- Chicken broth — 3 cups
- Eggs, beaten — 3
- Salt and pepper — to season
- Dry the bread overnight on a countertop. Or toast it on a baking sheet in a 300°F oven for about 30 minutes, and then set aside to cool.
- Set oven to 350°F. Melt the butter in a saute pan or skillet over medium flame. Add the onions and celery, and saute until the onions are cooked through and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Scrape the butter, onions and celery into a large mixing bowl and mix in the the bread, herbs salt and pepper. Pour 2 cups of the broth and the beaten eggs over the bread and use clean hands to mix it all well. Add more broth as needed to get the bread well moistened but not soggy. Adjust seasoning to taste, and remove the seasoned bread mixture to a greased or buttered baking or casserole dish.
- Bake covered with foil for 40 to 50 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for another 10 to 20 minutes, or until browned on top.
Classic Bread Stuffing Variations
- Breads: For the most flavor, use a mix of different breads: white, whole-wheat, rye. Stale biscuits, challah bread, brioche or dinner rolls work well too. Although it’s a popular choice, you should probably avoid regular sandwich bread for your stuffing. Its consistency is too soft, and it breaks down into a soggy mass when you add the liquid. Supplement the bread, and give your stuffing a toothsome texture, by mixing in some cooked rice or wild rice. For households with a mix of Northerners and Southerners, compromise by substituting cornbread for half of the bread mixed into your stuffing.
- Meats: Meat and seafood are very popular additions to bread stuffing, especially for the holidays. Depending on your taste and your family’s traditions, you might try sage-flavored pork sausage, chicken-apple sausage, oysters, cooked chicken or turkey, chopped turkey giblets, crumbled bacon or crawfish.
- Vegetables: Aromatic vegetables give bread stuffing an additional boost of flavor and color. When you saute the onions and celery, add a cup of chopped carrots, parsnips, celery root, rutabagas, mushrooms or hearty greens. Stir in some chopped scallions or spinach at the end. Substitute chopped leeks for the onion.
- Fruit: Fruit adds a sweet note to stuffing. Seasonal fall or winter fruit is perfect: chopped apples, pears, persimmons or a mix of dried cranberries, cherries, prunes or raisins.
- Nuts: Add crunch with some chopped toasted walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds or some roasted chestnuts.
- Herbs: Use a mix of your favorite herbs to add both flavor and color to your stuffing: parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, marjoram. Many cooks use a premixed blend of dried herbs called poultry seasoning.
- Liquid: Use turkey, seafood or vegetable broth. Try substituting apple cider or white wine for some of the broth. Eliminate the eggs if you like, and use a little more broth or other liquid.
- Southern-style cornbread dressing: Get the recipe here.
- Mid-Atlantic states oyster stuffing: Add a pint of raw oysters and their liquor to the mix. You will have to reduce the amount of broth a bit. Clams and mussels can be added too.
- San Francisco-style stuffing: Use a nice loaf of sourdough bread.
- Pennsylvania Dutch potato-bread filling: The people of Pennsylvania Dutch country make a hearty version of the side dish called “filling” that mixes in mashed potatoes. Use 4 to 6 cups of bread and mix 2 or 3 cups of mashed potatoes into the seasoned bread mixture as described above before baking. Some recipes use milk instead of broth.
- Vegan bread stuffing: Use oil instead of butter and vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Eliminate the eggs and make sure to add a little more vegetable stock so your stuffing doesn’t end up dry.
- Other uses for stuffing: Use bread stuffing to fill winter squash, bell peppers, tomatoes or other vegetables or to stuff a pocket in thick pork chops. Slice a pork or beef roast into a roulade and spread it with some stuffing. Roll it up, tie and roast for a delicious and moist filling.