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The Right Stuffing

Try one of these great regional recipes for a new Thanksgiving favorite.

Turkey stuffing tells a story: It reveals a lot about who you are and where you're from. If you call it "stuffing," for example, you probably grew up north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Southerners tend to serve "dressing." 

But you probably haven't tasted a lot of different stuffing in your life. It's just not an experimenting kind of dish. The family recipe is sacrosanct, reprised year after year. Even the most adventuresome eaters want the stuffing that their grandmothers made, no matter how it tastes.

For more than 30 years, I've made a meatless wild rice stuffing. At various times, I've thought about trying cornbread, oyster, sausage and chestnut stuffing. But my family just won't let me. One year, my son even complained that I'd cut back on the butter in my traditional stuffing.

The most common American stuffing is made with bread. White supermarket sandwich bread is probably the most common choice. Californians may use sourdough bread, and the Amish sometimes use rye bread, often with potato (called "filling".)

In the South, any bread other than cornbread would be blasphemy — except in Louisiana and Texas, both large rice producing states, where rice dressings may be found on the Thanksgiving table. I'm from the Great Lakes region where wild rice is abundant. Hence, my family recipe.

In many homes, packaged herbed bread stuffing mix is traditional, and usually ensures that the stuffing will not be soggy. Prepared stuffing comes cubed or crumb-textured. (If too bland, add a little poultry seasoning.)

Other stuffing/dressing/filling ingredients also reflect regional and personal differences. Families of Italian heritage may stuff with sausage. Along the Atlantic coast, oysters are popular. Wild rice stuffing often features dried cherries or cranberries, pecans or almonds. In Texas, some turkeys are stuffed with tamales.

The biggest debate in stuffing, though, is inside or outside the bird. Stuffed into the turkey cavity, the mixture is saturated with delicious turkey fat and drippings. But is it safe? After years of stuffing our turkeys, health concerns were raised. Turkeys can be stuffed if cooks follow food safety practices (see "Stuffing Safety").

But you can have it both ways. All the stuffing will not fit into the turkey, so there will be plenty left to put in a buttered casserole and bake in the oven.

I told my son that this year I would like to make a different kind of stuffing. He said that was fine — as long as I also made the wild rice stuffing, too.

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