Today on the Thanks­giv­ing count­down: side dishes

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It’s not Thanks­giv­ing with­out the supporting cast of stuff­ing and gravy. Let us help you per­fect them, so ev­ery part of the meal shines.


For lovers of stuff­ing and dress­ing, Thanks­giv­ing may be the apex of the year, though those dishes are wel­come on the ta­ble any­time.

Al­though the two terms may be used in­ter­change­ably, as we do here, stuff­ing is gen­er­ally un­der­stood to be cooked inside the cav­ity of the tur­key, while dress­ing is baked alone in a casse­role or other shal­low dish. As a re­sult, stuff­ing is ten­der and moist, suf­fused with the juices and any ren­dered fat from the bird. Dress­ing has a crisper top from be­ing ex­posed more di­rectly to the heat of the oven.


If you love the brawny fla­vor of poul­try juices mixed with your side dish, or if you’re sim­ply a tra­di­tion­al­ist, stuff­ing the tur­key is the way to go. ›

Stuff the tur­key just be­fore it goes into the oven. We know you want to do as much ahead as pos­si­ble, par­tic­u­larly on Thanks­giv­ing, but stuff­ing ahead of time en­cour­ages the growth of bac­te­ria. Don’t do it. This said, you can make the stuff­ing up to four days ahead and keep it in the re­frig­er­a­tor, then put it inside the bird just be­fore roast­ing. ›

If your stuff­ing recipe calls for shell­fish or tur­key giblets, the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture rec­om­mends that these be fully cooked and kept hot be­fore they are put inside the bird. So stir them into the mix im­me­di­ately be­fore stuff­ing the tur­key. ›

Stuff­ing ex­pands as it cooks, so fill the cav­ity loosely. ›

If you’re go­ing to stuff your bird, you should truss it, or at least tie the legs to­gether to keep the stuff­ing from fall­ing out. ›

Bear in mind that stuffed tur­keys take longer to cook than un­stuffed ones. ›

Both the tur­key and the stuff­ing need to be cooked to 165 de­grees be­fore they are safe to eat. Usu­ally the bird gets there be­fore the stuff­ing does. To avoid over­cook­ing the tur­key, pull it from the oven once the flesh hits the de­sired tem­per­a­ture. Then spoon the stuff­ing out of the cav­ity and into a bak­ing dish and re­turn to the oven (or stick it in the mi­crowave). Con­tinue cook­ing un­til the stuff­ing reaches 165 de­grees.

Bread Stuff­ing: Any bread, from soft white sand­wich loaves to chewy bagels to crusty sour­dough rye breads, can be turned into a stuff­ing or dress­ing. No mat­ter what kind of bread you use, it will ab­sorb more of the sea­son­ings if it is stale and dry. You can ei­ther buy the bread sev­eral days to a week in ad­vance and let it dry out at room tem­per­a­ture, or cube it and dry it out in a low oven (250 de­grees) un­til thor­oughly arid.

Or con­sider mak­ing your own bread for stuff­ing. Corn­bread comes to­gether es­pe­cially quickly, and you can con­trol the amount of sugar in the recipe, de­pend­ing upon whether you like it sweet or sa­vory.

Easy breads like bis­cuits, soda bread, no-knead bread and white sand­wich bread all make great stuff­ing, too. Bake them sev­eral days ahead so they have a chance to get

stale. Or bake them months ahead and freeze, then thaw them and let them dry out be­fore mak­ing stuff­ing.

Grain Stuff­ing: Bread stuff­ing is the clas­sic choice at Thanks­giv­ing, but you could use rice or other grains such as quinoa, farro or bar­ley. Not only are grain stuff­ings el­e­gant and re­fined, most also are gluten-free.

Grain stuff­ings don’t need to ad­here the way bread stuff­ings do, so you don’t need to bind them with egg. Ba­si­cally, your aim is to make a tasty rice pi­laf or grain salad, then cook it again inside your bird, which will give it an even more com­plex fla­vor rich with drip­pings.

You can use clas­sic bread stuff­ing aro­mat­ics (sage, cel­ery, onion), or im­pro­vise an­other fla­vor com­bi­na­tion. Chances are that as long as it tastes good on its own, it will taste even bet­ter af­ter tak­ing a turn inside the bird.

Wild rice goes par­tic­u­larly well with the earthy au­tum­nal fla­vors of a Thanks­giv­ing meal. Or try sticky rice for some­thing un­ex­pect­edly ter­rific.


Dress­ing is baked out­side the tur­key, which means it can achieve an ap­peal­ingly crisp, browned top — a nice tex­tu­ral con­trast to the softer layer un­der­neath. And, with your dress­ing out of the way, you can add aro­mat­ics such as lemons, gar­lic and bunches of herbs to the tur­key’s cav­ity for ad­di­tional fla­vor. (An­other bonus: An un­stuffed bird will roast more quickly than a stuffed one.)

› You can turn any stuff­ing recipe into a dress­ing by sim­ply bak­ing it out­side the bird. Spread the mix­ture in a shal­low pan and bake un­til the mix­ture reaches 165 de­grees. Dress­ing is pretty for­giv­ing, so feel free to bake it at what­ever tem­per­a­ture you need for other dishes you’re cook­ing.

› Vege­tar­i­ans take note: Be­cause it doesn’t touch the bird, dress­ing can be ut­terly meat-free. A rice stuff­ing with wal­nut and pears is one good op­tion.

› On the op­po­site side of the spec­trum, you can add tur­key stock or chicken stock, crisped poul­try skin, schmaltz and/ or diced cooked giz­zards, liver and shred­ded tur­key neck to the dress­ing to give it a meatier fla­vor.

› If you’ve got enough ex­tra tur­key skin, drape it over the top of the dress­ing be­fore bak­ing. The skin will turn into poul­try crack­lings and ren­der its lus­cious fat all over the dress­ing. Out­stand­ing. If the skin isn’t crisp when the stuff­ing is done, run it un­der the broiler for a few min­utes to fin­ish. (You can of­ten special-order tur­key skin from your butcher — chicken skin will work, too — or trim off the ex­tra skin at the tur­key’s neck when you are get­ting it ready for the oven.)

› If you like a deeply golden top, dot the top of the dress­ing with but­ter be­fore bak­ing. And if the dress­ing cooks through be­fore the top is brown, run it un­der the broiler for a minute or two be­fore serv­ing.


Good gravy is more than just a sauce for the tur­key. It brings all the ele­ments of the Thanks­giv­ing plate to­gether, el­e­vat­ing mashed pota­toes, stuff­ing and tur­key. You can use the clas­sic method for mak­ing gravy, whisk­ing it to­gether at the last minute us­ing the tur­key pan drip­pings, or you can make the gravy ahead, then spike it later with the flavorful drip­pings.

Be­fore You Start

› It’s help­ful to have a fat sep­a­ra­tor, which looks like a mea­sur­ing cup with a spout. It lets you pour off the gravy and leave be­hind ex­cess fat.

› You can use a wooden spoon to make gravy, but a whisk makes things smoother.

› For silky gravy, or for added in­sur­ance against lumps, strain your gravy be­fore serv­ing. Have a sieve on hand.

› Drip­pings from brined and kosher tur­keys may be too salty to use in gravy, par­tic­u­larly clas­sic pan gravy. Drip­pings from dry-brined tur­keys work in any gravy.

The Stock

Whether you’re mak­ing clas­sic last-minute gravy or one ahead of time, re­mem­ber this: Great gravy can come only from great stock. It’s ab­so­lutely worth the time it takes to make your own tur­key or chicken stock from scratch, but there are tricks to for­ti­fy­ing store­bought stock.

Home­made: To make your own stock, you need poul­try bones, ei­ther cooked or raw or a com­bi­na­tion. Some of the bones should have meat on them, but most can be picked clean. Two or 3 pounds of bones is plenty, but even 1 pound will give you enough stock to make gravy. If you’ve got tur­key giblets from your bird (heart, giz­zard, neck, any­thing but the liver), throw them into the pot with the bones and a big pinch of salt.

Add some veg­eta­bles and aro­mat­ics: a car­rot, a leafy cel­ery stalk, an onion and/or leek, a few cloves of peeled gar­lic, a bay leaf and/or some pars­ley stems, and a tea­spoon of pep­per­corns.

Pour in enough wa­ter to cover all the solids by at least 2 inches. Then bring it up to a very gen­tle sim­mer and let it bub­ble for a cou­ple of hours. Strain ev­ery­thing, press­ing down on the solids, and chill for up to three days, or freeze for up to six months.

Store-bought: If mak­ing your own is out of the ques­tion, you can come pretty close with a good-qual­ity poul­try stock bought ei­ther from a butcher shop or a spe­cialty shop (prefer­ably one made in-house). You’ll of­ten find pre-made stocks in the freezer case.

If the su­per­mar­ket is your only op­tion, the rule for canned or boxed stock, or stock sold in Tetra Paks, is to taste be­fore us­ing. If it’s ter­ri­ble, you’re bet­ter off with a bouil­lon cube and wa­ter, which is a low bar but marginally bet­ter than wa­ter. As a last-minute fix for weak stock, sim­mer it with the tur­key giblets for an hour or two. That will for­tify it.

The Roux

A roux, which thick­ens a gravy, is made with equal parts fat and flour. If you’re mak­ing clas­sic pan gravy, you’ll use the fat in the roast­ing pan. If you’re mak­ing gravy ahead of time, use but­ter, melt­ing it in a medium pan over medium heat.

Gen­tly whisk the fat and flour to­gether for at least five min­utes, long enough for the raw taste of the flour to dis­ap­pear. Keep cook­ing, whisk­ing all the while, un­til the roux has reached your de­sired color.

The color of the roux de­ter­mines what its fla­vor will be, and how ef­fec­tive it will be as a thick­en­ing agent.

A white or light roux, in which the flour is cooked briefly, will give you a mild mix­ture that lets the fla­vor of the poul­try dom­i­nate. It’s also the most ef­fec­tive thick­ener. A dark, ma­hogany-col­ored roux adds an in­tense, caramelized, nutty fla­vor to the gravy, but some­times at the ex­pense of tur­key fla­vor. Or strike a bal­ance and cook the roux un­til medium-brown, which will give you a nut­ti­ness that still al­lows the poul­try char­ac­ter to shine.

Clas­sic Pan Gravy

Time: 25 min­utes Yield: 5 to 6 cups Here is a sim­ple, el­e­gant pan gravy that lends it­self well to cook­ing in the very pan in which you’ve roasted your tur­key. It calls for whisk­ing flour with the fat in the bot­tom of the pan to cre­ate a light roux (no lumps!), then hit­ting it with stock and wine, salt and pep­per. Some may wish to add cream or other spices. De­cant the gravy into a warmed boat or beaker, rather than into a cold one, and serve im­me­di­ately.

7 ta­ble­spoons tur­key fat,

left in roast­ing pan 6 ta­ble­spoons flour, prefer­ably in­stant or all-pur­pose

1⁄2 cup white wine

4 to 5 cups tur­key stock or

chicken stock Kosher salt and black pep­per

Pour off all but 7 or so ta­ble­spoons tur­key fat from the roast­ing pan, and set the pan on the stove­top over medium heat. Sprin­kle the flour over the fat and cook, stir­ring con­stantly, un­til the mix­ture is golden, 8 to 10 min­utes.

In­crease heat to medium

high and add a lit­tle white wine, whisk­ing as you go to let it re­duce. Slowly add stock, stir­ring con­stantly, un­til the mix­ture is smooth. Cook, con­tin­u­ing to stir, un­til the gravy has thick­ened, 8 to 10 min­utes. Sea­son to taste with salt and pep­per.

— By Sam Sifton

Bread Stuff­ing

Time: 1 hour

Yield: 6 to 8 cups Mark Bittman writes that this bread stuff­ing, based on a James Beard recipe, has been a sta­ple on his Thanks­giv­ing ta­ble for decades. First, you make fresh bread­crumbs: Just whiz a few cups of slightly stale cubes of de­cent bread (crust and all, un­less it’s su­per­hard) in a food pro­ces­sor. Keep the crumbs very, very coarse. Cook them with plenty of but­ter or olive oil, and good sea­son­ings. Baked in a pan, this is de­li­cious, with or with­out gravy. You could use it to stuff the tur­key if you’d like — but once you’ve tried it cooked on its own, you won’t look back.

1⁄2 pound but­ter (2 sticks) 1 cup chopped onion

1⁄2 cup pine nuts or

chopped wal­nuts

6 to 8 cups coarse fresh

bread­crumbs (see tip) 1 ta­ble­spoon minced fresh tar­ragon or sage leaves, or 1 tea­spoon dried tar­ragon or sage, crum­bled

Salt and freshly ground

black pep­per

1⁄2 cup chopped scal­lions 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh pars­ley leaves

Melt but­ter over medium heat in a large, deep skil­let, Dutch oven or casse­role. Add onion and cook, stir­ring, un­til it soft­ens, about 5 min­utes. Add nuts and cook, stir­ring al­most con­stantly, un­til they be­gin to brown, about 3 min­utes.

Add bread­crumbs and tar­ragon or sage and toss to mix. Turn heat to low. Add salt, pep­per and scal­lions. Toss again; taste and ad­just sea­son­ing if nec­es­sary. Add pars­ley and stir. Turn off heat. (You may pre­pare recipe in ad­vance up to this point; re­frig­er­ate, well wrapped or in a cov­ered con­tainer, for up to a day be­fore pro­ceed­ing.)

Pack into chicken or tur­key if you like be­fore roast­ing, or roast in an oven­proof glass or enam­eled casse­role for about 45 min­utes, at 350 to 400 de­grees; you can bake this dish next to the bird if you like. (Or you can cook it up to 3 days in ad­vance and warm it up right be­fore din­ner.)

Tip: To make the bread­crumbs, tear bread into chunks and put them in the con­tainer of a food pro­ces­sor; you may need to do this in batches. Pulse un­til you have coarse, ir­reg­u­lar crumbs, no smaller than a pea and prefer­ably larger.

— By Mark Bittman


For lovers of stuff­ing and dress­ing, Thanks­giv­ing may be the apex of the year.


For many, cran­berry sauce is a Thanks­giv­ing must. For this recipe and more Thanks­giv­ing sides, visit


Pan gravy lends it­self well to cook­ing in the very pan in which you’ve roasted your tur­key.


If you don’t stuff your tur­key, you re­ally don’t need to truss it. But if you do stuff your bird, truss­ing helps keep the stuff­ing in its proper place, es­pe­cially when you are mov­ing the tur­key from the roast­ing pan to the cut­ting board.

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