Welcome to Gaining Elevation, a column dedicated to kicking your kitchen game up a notch. We’ll explore classic and often-used recipes, and get professional insight into how to get great results every time. From desserts and cocktails to mains and sides, nothing’s out of bounds!
Every year, a golden, steaming roasted turkey dominates the spotlight on the Thanksgiving table. Predictably, it gets parked center stage, and is garnished with frilly kale or herbs. But what is Thanksgiving dinner without an array of supporting sides? Yawn. Sorry, turkey, but it’s time to share the glory with some supporting actors.
No Thanksgiving is complete without stuffing. While it’s a simple dish, it’s worthy of some attention. This year, make sure that your bird’s sidekick isn’t gummy, bland or doomed to drown in gravy. A crispy top, a perfectly custardy center, with bold, savory spices – stuffing done right deserves to be revisited beyond the holidays.
Another star quality of stuffing is how easily it lends itself to a wide diversity of flavor combinations. From cheesy sausage to earthy mushroom and sage, stuffing is something of a blank canvas. Embrace the sweetness of seasonal apples and cranberries, or even create your own signature combination.
Chef Ozzie of Jackson Whole Grocer says that – regardless of how complex or simple you choose to go – there are a few easy ways to make sure your stuffing has great flavor and texture.
“I think it’s most important to use fresh ingredients,” Ozzie says. “Fresh onion, celery and herbs make all the difference.” He advocates for snagging the poultry blend of fresh herbs — it’s a convenient combination of sage, thyme and rosemary. Ozzie puts this flavor profile to use across many of his Thanksgiving dishes — turkey, stuffing and gravy.
The foundation of stuffing is, well, bread. While you can utilize any bread you want, Ozzie points out that quality matters. He recommends collecting leftover bread ends over the course of the year, and tossing them into the freezer. Then by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you have a plentiful stash of sufficiently stale bread to reinvent as stuffing.
For a gluten-free option, he’s a big fan of cornbread. “I cook the cornbread until it’s brown, and then shut the oven off,” he explains. “But I leave the cornbread in while the oven cools. That draws out the last of the moisture.” This way, the cornbread is more stable and won’t crumble when it’s mixed in with other ingredients.
Is it better to stuff the bird with stuffing? Or cook it separately in its own pan? Chef Ozzie’s answer: both. “I stuff the bird – when cold and fully prepped – and use a slice of white bread to seal the openings.” When the turkey’s cooked, so is the stuffing. But he also makes a separate pan of stuffing, letting it achieve a brown, crispy crust on top. His final flourish is to baste the crunchy top with turkey jus right when it comes out of the oven. “There’s the crunchy top, but the jus starts to soften it up just a little,” he says. His smile while describing it makes it clear that this is an excellent finishing touch.
Chef Ozzie warns against using too much liquid in the blend, as it will lead to oversaturated bread and a goopy final outcome. But he’s all for creative additions. He fondly recalls his mother-in-law’s approach: blending ground beef into the sauteéd vegetables. Sausage, chorizo, nuts, cranberries and other vegetables like leeks make great additions as well. Ozzie also points out that stuffing isn’t tough to keep vegetarian for non-meat-eating guests.
“Just swap out chicken or turkey stock for vegetable stock, and you’re good to go,” he says.
Perhaps crafting your own stuffing isn’t on the schedule this year, but fear not; you have options beyond the bag. Order some of Chef Ozzie’s stuffing – traditional or gluten-free cornbread – to complement your holiday spread. Be sure to get your orders placed soon, as Turkey day is only days away.
Or, if you’re looking to let someone else do all the cooking this year, make a reservation at Teton Pines Restaurant. The plentiful Thanksgiving buffet has a tempting array of classic dishes and creative, fresh offerings alike. Dig into roasted turkey and brioche stuffing, and heap on sides like Yukon gold mashed potatoes, maple glazed yams and baby turnips and braised Brussels sprouts with Cipollini onions and prosciutto. And if you’re one of those who just can’t pick what flavor pie to end the meal? Don’t worry – there’s a pie buffet, too. You can have a little of each.