Last night was had Friendsgiving with our eight of our good friends. It was a great night to spend with some of our favorite people, pretend we’re grownups, and experiment with some Thanksgiving recipes. I don’t know about y’all, but my grandmothers, aunts, and mother have the handle on the main aspects of big family holiday meals. My generation can contribute a dessert or appetizer, but none of us have graduated to the important elements like turkey, potatoes, or gravy. Because of this, I’d never made stuffing before yesterday! And I’m not going to lie… I had no idea how to do it. But thanks to my subscription to Bon Appetit and the internet, I figured it out. For my first stuffing adventure, I wanted to stay pretty traditional. My only personalizing twist was the addition of the pretzel buns. It worked out well, I think because this stuffing had great texture and flavor. (And don’t tell anyone, but I think mine was better than ones I’ve had in the past.)
Which brings me to my next controversial statement. I called this “stuffing.” I grew up in Virginia and always have known the herb-y, bread-y, Thanksgiving side dish that can either be found stuffed inside a turkey or baked in a casserole dish as “stuffing.” Selim, the Ohioan, agrees. I learned last night however, that all my native South Carolinian friends refer to this as “dressing.” But they also felt like my dish “wasn’t quite dressing” like their moms/aunts/grandmas made it. What was the difference? Unclear. None of us could figure out if there truly was a difference between dressing and stuffing, or if it was just regional semantics.
Good thing Google exists… In my googling I learned several things that sort of answered the question and sort of confused me even more. Some facts you never knew you wanted to know about stuffing:
- There is definitely a regional variation. The South uses the term “dressing,” while the Mid-Atlantic up through New England and most of the rest of the country prefers “stuffing.” Turns out there’s also a segment of the country (Pennsylvania Dutch country) that calls it “filling.”
- Many believe that “stuffing” can only be cooked inside the turkey (or another bird). This is logical based on the definition of “to stuff,” and is very commonly cited as the main difference between the two, but is not universally accepted.
- Many others believe that “dressing” has a cornbread base while “stuffing” has a white bread base. This is even less universally accepted than above and likely is just based on the fact that Southern cooks frequently make their dressing/stuffing with cornbread or biscuits.
- The first documentation of this concept dates back more than a thousand years. Recipes for stuffing animals appeared in the Roman cookbook Apicius, which scholars date to the late 4th or early 5th century.
- Victorians in the mid to late 1800s first started using the word “dressing,” as “stuffing” was apparently too crude of a word. Our genteel Southern ancestors evidently agreed.
- The National Turkey Federation says the terms can be used interchangeably. They’re probably the closest thing we have to an expert opinion, so we’ll go with that.
- 4 strips of bacon
- 1 loaf of French bread, torn
- 4 pretzel rolls, torn
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter, divided (1/2 cup + 1/4 cup + more)
- 2 tbsp fresh sage, coarsely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Fresh black pepper
- 3+ cups turkey stock, divided (2 cups + more)
- 2 large eggs
- Tear the bread & rolls into bite-sized pieces at least 24 hours prior to making the stuffing. Let sit out to dry.
- On the day you’re preparing the stuffing, place the bread into a large bowl.
- Slice bacon into medium lardons. Saute over medium heat until slightly crispy. Remove and add into the bowl with the bread.
- Leave the bacon grease in the pan, lower heat slightly, and add 1/2 cup of butter.
- Once butter has melted, return heat to medium and add onions. Cook for 5 minutes and then add herbs, salt, and 10 turns of pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for another 8 minutes.
- Pour butter and onions over the bread in the bowl and toss well.
- Melt 1/4 cup of butter. Whisk together with 2 eggs and 2 cups of turkey stock.
- Pour that mixture over bread. Stir until liquid is absorbed by the bread.
- Add additional turkey stock by the 1/4 cup until the bread is saturated. Wait a few minutes between adding stock to ensure it all gets absorbed. (You want the bread to be very wet, but without pools of liquid in the bowl. I used an additional cup total.)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Butter a large baking dish. Place the bread mixture into the dish.
- Butter a large piece of foil and cover the dish. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
- Increase oven heat to 450 degrees. Uncover and bake for a few additional minutes for a crispy top.