American Food: The 50 Greatest Dishes

Despite its reputation, Thanksgiving dinner is not a one-size-fits-all meal, a table set in brown from coast to coast. America is too vast, too inventive and too flush with immigrants from around the globe to subscribe to a single, unified vision of the holiday feast.

The evidence is right on your table: You could argue that no other Thanksgiving staple better reflects the nation's diversity than the side dish known as stuffing. Variations abound, and they venture well beyond the choice of breads - white, corn or Pepperidge Farm - and even beyond such decisions as whether to add oysters or giblets. Americans can't even agree on a name or preparation: Some call it stuffing and bake it inside the turkey (except when they don't). Others call it dressing and bake it in a casserole (except when they don't).

Then there are those who call it filling, as in "potato filling," a Thanksgiving requirement for just about everyone in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Sally Churgai grew up on a small farm in Howard County, Maryland, but when she married Jim Churgai in 1972, she was introduced to potato filling via her husband's maternal family. They're Pennsylvania Dutch, the often-misleading term for the German immigrants who started arriving in the state in the late 18th century, their diet rich in potatoes. Pennsylvania Dutch stuffing naturally includes spuds, often mixed with bread, butter, celery and eggs for a hearty, if plain, side.

"I thought it was a little bland," Churgai remembers about her first taste. But over time, and with a little help from added seasonings and herbs, potato filling became a staple of Churgai's own Thanksgiving feast, even after she and her husband ended their marriage of more than 20 years.

"Without it, there was no Thanksgiving," Churgai says from her home in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. "It's as important as the turkey."


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  • Few stuffings/dressings are as identifiable with a region and culture as potato filling is with the Pennsylvania Dutch. But regional stuffings do exist, even if family migrations, food media and other factors have conspired to erase the boundaries that once limited these dishes to certain geographic areas. In New England, cooks rely on Bell's Seasoning to flavor their stuffing. In Minnesota, they prepare a stuffing with wild rice, the aquatic grass that grows abundantly in the state. And in New Mexico, they make a corn bread stuffing with Hatch chiles.

    Maybe it would be more accurate to say that cooks in these regions sometimes make these stuffings. It's almost impossible to generalize about stuffing anymore.

    In October, I polled friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter to find the answers to two basic questions: Where did you grow up, and what kind of stuffing was on your Thanksgiving table? More than 150 people responded - hardly the sample size pollsters want when surveying the United States, but the results, plotted on Google Maps, revealed a few regional and cultural trends.

    Some were obvious: Cajun-style dressings in Louisiana and Texas, and Italian-style stuffings in New York and New Jersey, where one Newark family has enjoyed a Thanksgiving stuffing made with corn bread, hot and sweet Italian sausages and Parmesan. But there were also vestiges of once-proud Thanksgiving traditions, like the chestnut stuffings that used to grace holiday tables across the eastern states before a fungus nearly wiped out the American chestnut tree in the early 20th century. You can still find families from Connecticut to North Carolina clinging to their chestnut stuffing, thanks to farmers growing trees now resistant to the chestnut blight that was accidentally introduced from Japan.

    "I do distinctly remember my grandfather getting aggravated at trying to handle the hot chestnuts," recalled Francine Cohen in a Facebook remembrance of the stuffings of her Mid-Atlantic youth. "We fondly referred to the whole process of making stuffing as the 'annual yelling at the chestnuts.' "

    But other stuffings and dressings have migrated far from the regions associated with them. Corn-bread-based stuffings are no longer limited to the South, where the preferred term is "dressing," a fact substantiated by Google Correlate, which shows that far more Southern states use the search term "Thanksgiving dressing recipe." People told me that their families made corn bread stuffing in Missouri, Washington state and Pennsylvania.

    Likewise, oyster stuffing can be found in homes far from such major bodies of water as the Gulf of Mexico or the Chesapeake Bay. You'll find it in Michigan and Indiana, states not known for their bivalve aquaculture. Oyster stuffing in the Midwest may be just another sign of America's prowess at moving highly perishable, and potentially dangerous, products across great distances. But there's something else at play here, too.

    Michael Stern, one-half of the Roadfood duo that has roamed the United States for decades in search of local specialties, equates the collapsing boundaries around the regional stuffings with the blurred lines in American barbecue. The wealth of regional recipes at our fingertips - on personal blogs, online magazines, Pinterest, YouTube videos, etc. - has made Americans "more aware and interested in what people are cooking in other parts of the country," he says.

    At the same time, Stern doesn't view this streak of Thanksgiving experimentalism as the death of regional stuffings. He says it's more of an expansion.

    "There might be an alternative [stuffing] for the more adventurous, but God forbid if you serve only the alternative," Stern says. "It's important for people to recognize their traditions. People don't want to throw away what they've always done in the past."

    Perhaps more than any other dish, stuffing underscores Thanksgiving's complicated relationship with tradition. As children, we were often told that the holiday's central feast - a bronzed turkey with all the trimmings - could trace its origins back to 1621, when colonists and Wampanoag people first gathered around the table. Only later did we learn that the autumnal meal was largely cobbled together and promoted by other folks, including a 19th-century writer and editor who pushed to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

    Bread stuffing probably never appeared at the "first Thanksgiving," though cooks at the time probably stuffed fowl with nuts, oats, onions and herbs. More than 200 years later, in 1829, New England author and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child published "The Frugal Housewife," one of the first American cookbooks to target households without servants. In her section on turkey, Child suggested a stuffing of either pounded crackers or crumbled bread, with salt pork and sage (or sweet marjoram), perhaps bound with an egg to make the dish easier to cut.

    "But [it] is not worth while when eggs are dear," Child noted.

    Child's approach, emphasizing practicality and flexibility, has basically served as a template for all stuffings since. Stuffings based on local ingredients. Stuffings based on ingredients familiar to immigrants looking to assimilate into American culture. (Think Laotian sticky rice stuffing with chestnuts or Greek gemista stuffing with rice and giblets.)

    "I talked to some Asian-American friends and asked them what they cooked for Thanksgiving stuffing," says author Diane Morgan, who has written several holiday cookbooks, including "The New Thanksgiving Table." "They were mostly doing some variation of rice with Chinese sausage. So it wasn't straying too far from their foods and incorporating them into a Thanksgiving meal."

    Corporate America would eventually worm its way into the Thanksgiving dinner, offering the ease of convenience, that mid-20th-century buzzword that would give rise to stuffing products such as Pepperidge Farm and Stove Top, among others. Numerous people in my survey said that they grew up on stuffing made with Pepperidge Farm mixes.

    Each stuffing is American in its own, sometimes complicated, way. But could there be a stuffing more American than the one White Castle unleashed on the country in 1991, purportedly a creation of a company employee who adapted her grandmother's recipe? It's a stuffing built with hamburgers, from a fast-food chain that debuted in the American heartland.

    Many years ago, Therese Lewis, a culinary manager for Dierbergs Markets in the St. Louis area, served the White Castle dressing to her family on a dare. Personally, Lewis has a soft spot for White Castle. She grew up with its juicy sliders, steam-grilled over chopped onions. But she wasn't sure how those fast-food flavors would translate to the Thanksgiving table. So she didn't tell her kids what was in the stuffing.

    "They loved it!" Lewis recalls. So much that she now must serve the White Castle side dish every year, her own Midwestern spin on the ever-evolving Thanksgiving stuffing.

    - - -

    Charleston Rice Dressing

    6 to 8 servings 

    Large silver rice spoons are a regular implement in South Carolina, used to spoon this dressing out of fowl, particularly turkey.

    MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.

    Adapted from "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith, 2012).

    Ingredients

    8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

    8 ounces chicken livers (may substitute giblets and liver from 1 turkey), cleaned

    Kosher salt

    1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)

    2 or 3 large ribs celery (1 cup)

    2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

    6 cups steamed white rice

    1 cup no-salt-added turkey stock or low-sodium chicken broth, or more as needed

    1/2 cup chopped pecans

    1/2 cup packed chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme and sage

    Steps

    Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Stir in the giblets and liver and season with a hefty pinch of salt; cook for about 15 minutes, until golden brown, stirring a few times. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate. 

    Add the onion and celery to the pan; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic (to taste) and cook for 1 minute, or until just fragrant. 

    Meanwhile, coarsely chop the chicken livers.

    Stir the rice into the pan, adding stock or broth, as needed, to create a moist mixture, then add meat, pecans and herbs, stirring to incorporate.

    Serve warm, as is, or cool completely for use as a stuffing or dressing.

    Nutrition | Per serving (based on 8): 350 calories, 10 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 130 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

    - - -

    Grandma Jerry's Stuffing

    12 to 16 servings 

    This is a generous, eggless rendition that earns its New Jersey chops by using two kinds of Italian sausage and topping of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The family recipe comes by way of descendant David Smelson and is named for Grandma Jerry, whose name was Violet. She was a Polish-Catholic immigrant who married a Jewish-Eastern European immigrant named James Smelson. They both grew up in Newark.

    MAKE AHEAD: The stuffing mixture, minus its broth, can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance. The baked stuffing can be reheated, covered, in a 300-degree oven until warmed through.

    Adapted from food blogger David Smelson.

    Ingredients

    16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter

    2 large yellow onions, cut into small dice (about 3 cups)

    1 clove garlic, minced

    2 ribs celery, thinly sliced

    1 pound sweet Italian bulk sausage

    1 pound hot Italian bulk sausage

    10 large basil leaves, rolled and cut into thin ribbons (3 tablespoons chiffonade; may substitute 1 tablespoon dried basil)

    10 to 12 fresh sage leaves, rolled and cut into thin ribbons (3 tablespoons chiffonade; may substitute 1 tablespoon dried sage)

    1 teaspoon dried rosemary

    3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (may substitute 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves)

    1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

    28 ounces (2 bags) dried corn bread stuffing cubes, preferably unseasoned

    2 cups homemade chicken broth or no-salt-added dark/rich chicken broth, or more as needed

    3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

    Steps

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease 2 or 3 large baking dishes or casseroles.

    Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onions, garlic and celery. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, adding another 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter, as needed, until the onions and celery have become translucent. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

    Add the two kinds of sausage in pinches to the pan; cook 12 to 15 minutes, until it loses its raw look, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it cooks. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the mixing bowl. Discard the rendered fat in the pan.

    Add the herbs, lemon zest and corn bread cubes to the bowl, stirring to incorporate. Gradually pour in the stock or broth, stirring to distribute it evenly.

    Divide the stuffing mixture among the casserole or baking dishes; you should have enough to also put some inside a turkey, if desired.

    Melt the remaining butter, then use it all to drizzle over the stuffing. Scatter the cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake (middle rack) for 30 minutes, then uncover and check for dryness; add more stock or broth if the stuffing seems dry, then cover and bake a bit longer. If it seems too wet, leave it uncovered and bake for another 15 minutes.

    Serve warm.

    Nutrition | Per serving: 410 calories, 12 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 970 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

    - - -

    Nana's Andouille and Corn Bread Dressing

    8 to 10 servings 

    Reader Kate Harrington of San Antonio says this side has been on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas in her family for at least three generations.

    MAKE AHEAD: The giblets can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated a day or two in advance. The dressing can be assembled, without the broth, and refrigerated a day in advance.

    From a recipe by her grandmother Norma Harrington, who lived in Lafayette, Louisiana.

    Ingredients

    4 cups water, or more as needed

    1 packet turkey giblets (from a whole turkey); can substitute 6 ounces cleaned chicken livers

    Two 8.5-ounce packages Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

    2 large eggs

    2/3 cup whole or low-fat milk

    1/4 cup sugar

    Canola oil, as needed

    8 ounces cooked/cured (pork) andouille sausage, chopped

    1 large white onion, diced

    1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

    1/2 cup chopped celery

    1/4 packed cup chopped parsley

    Leaves from 1 sprig fresh rosemary or thyme

    2 teaspoons Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning or other Cajun seasoning blend

    Steps

    Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the giblets; once the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium/medium-low (so it is barely bubbling) and cook for 1 hour, adding water as needed. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the giblets to a plate to cool, and reserve the cooking liquid.

    Cut the cooled giblets into small pieces.

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or casserole with tall sides. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

    Whisk together the Jiffy mixes, eggs, milk and sugar in a mixing bowl, to form a lumpy batter. Pour into the baking dish; bake (middle rack) for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.

    Meanwhile, use enough canola oil to coat the bottom and sides of a large cast-iron skillet, then place over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the andouille sausage; cook, stirring often, until it has all browned nicely. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate.

    Reduce the heat to medium; stir in the onion, green bell pepper and celery so that they're evenly coated. Cook until the onions are translucent but have not picked up any color, adding oil as needed to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat.

    Crumble the cooled corn bread into a large mixing bowl, then stir in the chopped giblets, sausage, onion mixture, parsley and rosemary or thyme; toss well, then add the Cajun seasoning blend and stir to incorporate.

    Press the dressing mixture into the baking dish so that it is firmly packed, then pour the giblet cooking liquid evenly over the top. You may not use all the liquid; but it should be at the point where it is no longer being absorbed. Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and still moist inside. Cool slightly before serving.

    Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 320 calories, 11 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 880 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar

    - - -

    Pennsylvania Dutch-Style Potato Filling

    10 servings

    A staple of Pennsylvania Dutch country, potato filling is a side dish built with butter - and more butter. Consider yourself warned. The dish is also something of a carb hog, injecting the autumnal flavors of traditional Thanksgiving stuffing into mashed potatoes. As such, you likely won't need another potato dish on the holiday table, unless it's the sweet variety.

    MAKE AHEAD: The filling can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance.

    Adapted from recipes by Sally Churgai of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and Bonnie Boyer from CookingChannel.com.

    Ingredients

    20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

    4 ribs celery (trimmed), diced

    1 medium onion, diced

    5 slices white bread, cut into 1/2-inch squares (crusts on)

    3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

    1/4 cup regular or low-fat milk

    1 large egg

    2 teaspoons kosher salt

    Steps

    Melt 12 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the celery and onion; cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned at the edges.

    Add the bread pieces; cook for about 10 minutes, stirring gently, until they absorb the butter in the pan and their crusts have slightly crisped. Be careful not to burn the onion, which will be somewhat caramelized and turn a deeper shade of brown. Let cool.

    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 3-quart baking dish or casserole.

    Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water by an inch or two. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to the water; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium; cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender, then drain and return them to the pot. Mash them gently, then immediately fold in the milk, egg, the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of salt, stirring until the butter has melted.

    Add the bread mixture to the pot, along with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and stir until incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the baking dish or casserole; bake (middle rack) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the edges start to brown and pull away from the sides of the dish.

    Serve hot.

    Nutrition | Per serving: 380 calories, 5 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 360 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

    - - -

    West Coast Oyster Dressing

    12 to 16 servings 

    This recipe typically uses Olympia oysters from the southern Puget Sound, which are said to have a sweet, metallic, celery-salt flavor. If they aren't available, ask your fishmonger for an oyster with a similar flavor profile.

    MAKE AHEAD: The sourdough bread cubes can be dried in the oven several days in advance and stored in an airtight container. The dressing's vegetables can be cooked and refrigerated a day in advance. The dressing is best served the same day it's made.

    Adapted from a recipe by Santa Barbara, California, resident Carol Dickey.

    Ingredients

    8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish

    2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

    3 ribs celery, cut into small dice

    Kosher salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

    1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed, as needed

    1 cup homemade or low-sodium chicken broth or turkey stock, plus more as needed

    1-pound loaf sourdough bread, cut into cubes and dried in the oven (see NOTE)

    1 tablespoon poultry seasoning blend

    2 cups shucked small West Coast oysters, coarsely chopped, plus their liquor (see headnote)

    Steps

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use some butter to generously grease a large baking dish or casserole.

    Melt the 8 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onions and celery. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Meanwhile, combine the mushrooms and broth in a separate saute pan over medium heat. Cook 10 minutes until tender and most of the liquids in the pan have evaporated.

    Place the dried sourdough bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. Add the onion mixture, the mushrooms, the poultry seasoning blend; toss to incorporate, then add the oysters and their liquor and toss so that the dressing is evenly moistened. Add more broth, as needed. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

    Pack the dressing into the baking dish or casserole. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake (middle rack) for about 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for about 15 minutes, or until nicely browned on top. 

    Serve warm.

    NOTE: Spread the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes until they are crisped but not browned. Cool completely.

    Nutrition | Per serving (based on 16): 160 calories, 7 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

    - - -

    White Castle Dressing

    8 to 12 servings

    Using the square sliders created by this Midwestern chain restaurant makes sense as the base of a quick Thanksgiving side: They bring the onion, meat and bread to this basic recipe, which is said to have been created by a White Castle employee who "enhanced her grandmother's family stuffing recipe with a sack of those hamburgers." 

    These days, you don't need to find one of the company's restaurants to acquire the hamburgers; they are sold in the frozen section of supermarkets and some drug stores.

    MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be assembled and refrigerated (unbaked) a day in advance.

    From a recipe provided by Marianne Moore, chef and creative culinary director of Dierbergs School of Cooking in Chesterfield, Missouri, based on the 1991 White Castle stuffing recipe.

    Ingredients

    12 White Castle Hamburgers (not cheeseburgers; see headnote)

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    2 cloves garlic, minced

    4 ribs celery stalks, chopped (about 1 cup)

    6 fresh sage leaves, minced

    1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced

    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

    1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or turkey stock

    Steps

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 3-quart casserole.

    Remove pickles from the burgers, as needed, then cut the burgers into chunks and place in a mixing bowl.

    Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the garlic and cook for about 20 seconds, until fragrant, then stir in the celery and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Remove from the heat, and add the sage, thyme and pepper, stirring to incorporate. 

    Transfer to the mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup of the broth or stock and stir until evenly moistened; add some or all the remaining broth or stock, as needed. Taste and adjust the pepper, as needed. 

    Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, until crisped on top. Serve warm.

    Nutrition | Per serving (based on 12): 160 calories, 7 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

    Source : http://www.myajc.com/lifestyles/food--cooking/thanksgiving-stuffing-the-dish-that-best-reflects-america-diversity/okBaIxt4UCZb75Eh9dDUFI/

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