Monday, November 22, 2010

7 Top Tips to Perfect Your Holiday Dressing

My top tips to perfect your holiday dressing or stuffing.

How to Perfect Your Holiday Dressing

The perfect dressing, or stuffing... however you look at it, can be a bit elusive, and to be honest it just takes practice to get it to the consistency that you like. Some people like their dressing on the dry side, others like it almost soupy. Here are some of my favorite dressing tips that I've picked up along my way of practice.

Top Tips to Perfect Your Holiday Dressing

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish

1. Use very dry bread and/or cornbread.  Ideally, they both should be day old, stale bread, so that it dries out well. Any kind of bread can be used - toasted sliced sandwich bread or leftover biscuits or rolls, toasted in the oven until crisp and dry, even saltine crackers will do. Whatever you have - use it up! That's how we roll in The South. For my cornbread dressing I don't like the texture of a pure cornbread dressing all alone, so I prefer to mix my cornbread with some bread.

2. Taste.  Add in all of the seasonings and taste the dressing before you add in the raw eggs, because the flavor then is pretty much gonna be the flavor it will be once baked. I like to use a mixture of seasonings that is a copycat version of Bell's seasoning since I can't find the Bell's brand down here. Adjust the seasonings as needed, then add the eggs and add in additional stock if it isn't moist enough. There are some folks who add in boiled eggs to their dressing. I'm not sure why this practice started, but since it's a cooked dressing, I use raw eggs, which I feel help both with the flavor, but also help with sort of fluffing up the dressing a bit. It may be that chopped up boiled eggs adds a different kind of texture to the dressing - maybe one day I'll end up giving it a try.

3. Texture. Some people prefer their dressing on the dry side. Others like it more wet. Some like it more fluffy. Make it the way that you like it. Either way, you still don't want stuffing that is too dry, and at the other end of the spectrum, you certainly don't want it to be really wet and soupy. Perfect stuffing is somewhere in between there ... on which end depends on the consistency you prefer.

4. Always understand that the stock measurements in a dressing recipe are simply a guide and never written in stone. If you use bread or cornbread that is fresh and not day old, it will affect the way liquids are absorbed. Sometimes I add in a bit of canned turkey gravy along with the stock for extra flavor. Toss that in before you begin adding in any stock, and only add as much stock as you need to get it to the consistency you like. In other words, start with a little bit of liquid, toss it and add more only as needed to get it to the consistency you want. I usually recommend somewhere between 4 and 6 cups of stock or other liquid for a large pan of dressing, and generally find that I fall right about in the middle, at about 5 cups of stock for a moist dressing. You'll use less if you like your dressing more fluffy.

5. Moisture. Sauteed vegetables, butter, eggs, and stock/broth are what give your dressing it's moisture. Saute the vegetables in butter to soften them, and then transfer the entire skillet to the bread.

6. Soft or Crunchy?  Cover the dressing with aluminum foil before baking for a softer dressing and remove in the last 10 minutes of cooking. Like a harder, crunchy top? Then bake it uncovered. For the best of both worlds, cover the dressing halfway, then remove the cover for the remaining cook time.

7. How to fix a too dry or too wet stuffing?  If your dressing doesn't turn out right, don't fret. You can usually fix it.  If you find your stuffing is too dry, add additional warmed broth to it, stir well, and return to the oven, checking periodically. If the stuffing is overly wet and too gummy, cook it uncovered for a bit longer, checking periodically.

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©Deep South Dish
What are some of your favorite tips to perfect your own holiday dressing?
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My collection of Southern Thanksgiving recipes can be found right here.

My Collection of Dressing and Stuffing Recipes:

Traditional Southern Cornbread Dressing
Southern Cornbread and Oyster Dressing
Chicken and Cornbread Dressing
Cornbread Sage Dressing
Homemade Herb Dressing
Chicken and Herb Dressing
Seafood and Eggplant Dressing
Seafood Stuffed Mirlitons
Cajun Rice Dressing (Dirty Rice)

Posted by on November 22, 2010
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  1. Great stuffing tips Mary. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Excellent tips! It took me a few years of making stuffing on my own to get it "just right". I still deviate from the recipe, going by the "feel" of it while I'm mixing, rather that the amounts that I have written on paper. Your tips were right on!

  3. My dressing starts off with my "Dressing Cornbread". When I make the cornbread for dressing, I put the butter sauteed celery and onion in the cornbread batter. Also, depending on size, I use 4-5 eggs in the batter that only calls for 2 eggs. This way there are no raw eggs going into the dressing mix so it can be assembled well in advance. I also hold out a good half cup or more and use that to thicken my giblet gravy.

  4. I tried your dressing recipe a few weeks ago and it was great! I cook a lot but have always been scared of dressing. Thank you for your terrific recipes. I tag and share many of your tips and recipes on facebook. Keep it up!

  5. I think dressing is my favorite part of the meal. I've been making the same recipe for years and it seems to turn out a bit differently each year.

    1. Lea Ann I too look forward to Thanksgiving because I get to eat lots of dressing. I am desinated dressing cook in family & have made it for years. Like you every year it turns out different. I guess we don't make enough during the year that is why. Well Happy Dressing day hope yours turns out the best you ever made this year.

  6. At our house cornbread dressing is one of those mix and taste as you measuring. Start with crumbled homemade buttermilk cornbread - no box mix. Add sauteed celery and onions, boiled eggs and chicken stock/brother, black pepper, sage and celery salt. Mama always used homemade stock and a lot of times we had our dressing with chicken mixed in. I used the low sodium, fat free broth these days to save time. I married into a mid-western family so this is the dish I'm required to make every year :)

  7. Taste, taste, then taste again! I even like to have a second opinion, because I can get heavy handed with the sage because I like it a lot.

  8. Love the reference to Bell's! When I lived south of the mason dixon line, I used to pick some up whenever I visited my family in NY. Bell's is a Thanksgiving tradition for a NY girl!

  9. I have never put boiled eggs in my dressing, but I do put a boiled egg or two in the giblet gravy. I also put about 1/4 cup corn meal for a little different texture. Course, don't forget the giblets.

  10. They sell Bell's seasoning in Winn Dixie now at least at the one in Laurel, ms where I live. I had just recieved my online order of it about two months before I saw it in there.

    1. Oh yay!! Thanks so much for letting me know - I'll be looking for it around here then!

  11. My dressing is similar to yours except I never use sweet cornbread. Sweet cornbread in TX is considered a dessert. I like mine on the dry side so I cook it what seems like forever ha ha. Dressing is what makes Thanksgiving I look forward to. I have never used anything but sage & polutry seasoning this is how I was taught. My dressing is deliciouso!!! Thanks for your recipe I will try it minus the bell seasonings.

    1. Oh mercy, you have stirred a hornet's nest!! Well, first, thanks for your comment, but... if you already have a dressing recipe you love & say is deliciouso, why in the world would you even WANT to change it???? I sure wouldn't!!

      Now, here's my hissy fit I'm about to pitch...

      I will occasionally use a tiny bit of sugar in my cornbread because frankly, corn LOVES sugar. I have covered how I feel about that whole "southern folks dissing on other southerners who use sugar in their cornbread" debate here on the site which you can read if you're bored, because truth is, many southerners have been adding a little bit of sugar to cornbread since the beginning of cornbread making! It's as old as the hills but a lot of southerners just don't want to admit or accept that.

      Yankee cornbread has a LOT of sugar and quite a lot of flour too, but we southerners don't use that much because THAT is when it becomes a cake or "dessert" of course, we just a tad to take off the raw edge of the cornmeal. Which is why I do it. Try it some time, I double dog dare ya! And I won't tell you ya either. :)

      That said, I don't tell somebody the way they cook is "southern wrong or right" because however they do it is RIGHT for them and who am I to criticize, right? I also don't use anything sweet in my cornbread dressing, but I say if somebody else likes it that way, more power to them, southern or not.

      Whew! I hope you will forgive my feisty attitude about all that, but I got some of that Texas blood in me too, just so you know. ;)

      Bell's is a nice mixture of a few seasonings, very flavorful, but still heavy on that sage you love. It's quite good actually and perfect for dressing.

  12. My granny always put boiled eggs in dressing and in gravy so now I do the same, its for taste not texture its amazing =)

    1. Thanks Colleen! You'll notice that I listed that in the section on taste, though in my opinion adding boiled eggs instead of raw eggs would also add in a different texture as well.

  13. My exwife was always in charge of the dressing and it was AMAZING. She never measured anything, did it by taste and it always turned out great. So this is going to be my attempt to recreate that. I do know she always used the Jiffy which is kinda sweet. She boils down a chicken and debones it and adds the meat to it and uses the stock. She also makes the "trinity" Celery, Onion, Green Pepper in a stick of butter.

    Who knows how much stock or eggs she uses is up for debate. And of course some of the low salt cajun seasons and fresh pepper. Wish me luck!!

    1. Once you make your first one, you'll know what to adjust - Happy Thanksgiving!!

  14. Thanks for the tutorial!

    Stuffing (or dressing, whatever! ;)) is one of the few things that I wasn't too scared of when I first started cooking. I remembered my mom making it and kind of how she did it, so I just went from there.

    By the way, she always used a box of Stovetop and mixed it with torn-up frozen hushpuppies, onions, celery, boiled eggs, etc.

    I don't use her ingredients...even though I will "hook up" a box of Stovetop for a side for a weeknight dinner once in a blue moon, I don't use it for holidays or anything. But, I got a pretty good feel for the gist of it from her. And by the way...her stuffing is actually pretty darned good, believe it or not. A lot of people think it is homemade. ;)

  15. Stovetop and hushpuppies! I think I love your mama!!

  16. I make my stuffing with the raw eggs, onions and celery put in raw, and use dry bread crumbs. Instead of using so much stock or broth I add in some applesauce. Keeps it moist and great texture!!! Just don't use too much though because it will be too sticky while cooking. I get rave reviews whenever I make it!!!

  17. lol the first year i hosted thanksgiving all by myself, was the first time i had FINALLY gotten my Nana's cornbread dressing "just right." i had tried, and failed numerous times before and brought it to potlucks and brought it to the in-laws so they could try it... they all loved it. it was always GOOD... just not RIGHT.

    well the first time i got it right... i sat down at the table and just started bawling my eyes out. they all thought i had lost my mind! and now they always ask "if i'm sure i can handle" thanksgiving by myself. lol these yanks just don't get it....

    but you have described it perfectly! it's fluffy! it's still moist, but fluffy on the inside and has a nice crunchy crust on the top. i think the torch has finally been passed down to me... my mother-in-laws knees have given out on her and she has accepted that i am a better cook. lol (she admits that she was never much of a cook to begin with...)

    i will have to print these tips out and keep it with me so i don't forget! thanks!


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