March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Whether you call it stuffing or dressing, a holiday meal doesn't seem complete without it. Stuffing provides that special comforting and memorable component to the meal. Not everyone agrees on the exact ingredients that go into the perfect stuffing. However, everyone does agree stuffing needs to be prepared safely so your holiday doesn't provide vivid stories of food poisoning.
The Basics of Stuffing Preparation
To ensure stuffing is prepared safely and only fond food memories result, proper planning is key. First, determine how much stuffing you need. When serving boneless chicken breasts, pork chops or other individual-sized entrées, plan for about ½ cup of prepared stuffing per serving. If stuffing whole poultry, plan for about ¾ cup of prepared stuffing per pound of uncooked poultry.
Also, you'll need a food thermometer for determining when stuffing is safely cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Use this temperature as a guide, whether you serve stuffing separately in a casserole dish or stuffed into poultry or meat. Bacteria can survive and thrive in stuffing that hasn't reached this temperature, therefore, increasing your risk of food poisoning. Best advice: For maximum safety, cook stuffing in a casserole.
Once your meal is planned and your ingredients and food thermometer are at the ready, deliciousness awaits. Follow these tips to help ensure you and your loved ones safely enjoy the succulence of stuffing.
- As soon as you've prepped the stuffing, cook it immediately. If you prefer to pre-prep stuffing in advance, freeze rather than refrigerate uncooked stuffing.
- When preparing to stuff the large cavity of fresh or thawed whole poultry, aim for a moist, not dry, stuffing mixture, and spoon it loosely, not compactly, into the cavity to allow for proper cooking. Don't cool freshly prepared stuffing before spooning it into the poultry.
- For stuffing recipes that include poultry, shellfish or meat, precook these raw ingredients before incorporating them into the stuffing.
- After the inner part of the stuffed poultry thigh and the center of the stuffing have reached 165°F, let it stand for 20 minutes to complete the cooking process; then remove the stuffing and carve the poultry.
- Think again before preparing stuffed turkey breasts, pork chops or other smaller meat or poultry entrées. Even if the meat reaches the proper temperature, the entire portion of stuffing may not and can contain harmful bacteria. Cook your stuffing separately in a casserole dish for the most uniform cooking.
- Should you have leftover stuffing cooked within the poultry cavity, transfer just the stuffing into a sealed container, and refrigerate it up to three or four days, or freeze it for longer storage. This same timing applies to stuffing that is cooked separately, too.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing once again reaches 165°F for any reheated leftover stuffing.