Christmas basics: the perfect stuffing

Justine Costigan
01 December, 2015

We're looking at those staple recipes that can make or break your Christmas spread. Say no to sodden flavourless stuffing!

Once upon a time (some time before the fifth century AD), a thrifty chef looked at the freshly removed innards of a bird and thought, “I can do something with that”. They cleaned and finely diced the offal, fried it with butter or olive oil in a pan, added onion, herbs, and some crumbled stale bread, cooled it, returned it to the cavity, then roasted the bird. 

Well, something like that. In any case, it must have tasted delicious and the idea of stuffing meat, birds, fish and vegetables caught on.

How to make a stuffing

Offal used to be common in stuffing and there are also many recipes using sausage meat, cured meats, vegetables and grains. Dried and fresh fruit, nuts and herbs are also commonly included. Margaret Fulton has many variations on the classic bread and herb stuffing, adding spinach, lemon, mushroom, and even oysters to a classic stuffing mix.

Stuffing should be inserted into a clean and dry bird, just before cooking. Secure the entrance to the cavity with string or a toothpick. Stuffed meats usually need to be tightly rolled and tied to make sure the stuffing remains intact.

Classic stuffing

Margaret Fulton’s classic stuffing recipes (and there are many of them), particularly for stuffed birds, include a gently sautéd onion or shallot added to crumbled stale bread, herbs and seasoning. Sometimes an egg is added to bind the mix. (See below for some of our favourite Fulton classics.)

Gluten-free stuffing

Rice has always been a popular stuffing option and is perfect for people who don't eat gluten. In Greg and Lucy Malouf’s Arabesque, rice and chorizo are mixed with shallots, garlic, lemon and parsley before stuffing into a chicken or game bird and roasted. Rice stuffing is particularly popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking, and not just for meats – think rice stuffed capsicums, tomatoes and zucchini. Antonio Carlucci stuffs ripe tomatoes with a mix of rice, anchovy, garlic and mint.

Ian Thorpe's Roast chicken with preserved lemon stuffing

Stuffing do’s and don’ts

Stuffing can be prepared in advance but it’s preferable to stuff your meat just before cooking. If your stuffing includes cooked ingredients, make sure the stuffing is chilled before using.

While it sounds logical for a bird or meat to be thoroughly stuffed, avoid using so much that the stuffing becomes compacted. Stuffing should have some texture and if you’re using a bread-based stuffing, it can quickly become a solid mass of starch. Aim for a nice crumbly texture.

Stuffing traditionally goes in the cavity of a bird, fish or beast, but some recipes, especially for stuffed birds, call for stuffing to be inserted between the skin and the flesh. This is usually a case of following family tradition, but stuffing the cavity will give you a richer, more intense flavour, as the stuffing will absorb some of the juices from the meat and bones.

Serving stuffing

Stuffed birds should have the stuffing removed before carving. Stuffing can be served from a bowl or alongside the meat. Meat stuffing should be left in place, with each slice of meat showing off the stuffing inside.

Margaret Fulton's Roasted stuffed turkey breast

Classic stuffings from Margaret Fulton

Lemon and parsley stuffing

Makes enough to stuff a turkey

  • 3 cups cubed day-old bread
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped Continental parsley
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
  • 30 g butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

Process the bread in a food processor until it forms crumbs. Spread the breadcrumbs on a baking tray and dry in a 160°C oven for about 20 minutes. Combine the breadcrumbs, onion, herbs, lemon rind, juice and butter. Add the egg, season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss lightly with a fork to mix. Use to stuff the cavity (main body) of turkey.

Pork, apple and pistachio stuffing

Makes enough to stuff a turkey

  • 1/2 cup apple juice or cider
  • 4 slices white bread, cubed
  • 500 g pork mince
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Continental parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
  • 1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pour the apple juice or cider over the bread cubes and allow to stand for 30 minutes. Mix together the pork mince, celery, apples, onion, herbs and pistachios with the soaked bread. Blend together well with the egg and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Use to stuff the crop (breast) of turkey.

Cognac raisin and rice stuffing

Makes enough to stuff a duck

  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup Cognac or brandy
  • 1/4 cup chopped spring onions
  • 125 g butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked rice
  • 1/4 cup chopped, shelled pistachios or pine nuts

Soak the raisins in the Cognac or brandy for 10 minutes. Sauté the spring onion in the butter until tender. Combine the raisins, spring onions and butter, salt, rice and nuts in a large bowl and toss lightly to combine.

Prune, chestnut and celery stuffing

Makes enough to stuff a turkey

  • 12 large dessert prunes
  • 1/2 cup red wine mixed with . cup water
  • 30 g butter
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 250 g dried chestnuts or 290 g canned whole chestnuts
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped herbs (Continental parsley, thyme, sage)
  • grated rind of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season
  • 1/2 beaten egg

Soak the prunes in the wine for 2 hours. Gently simmer the prunes and wine in a saucepan until tender. Drain and reserve the liquid. Cut into quarters. Melt the butter in a frying pan and sauté. the onion and celery until tender. Quarter the chestnuts and add to a bowl with the prunes, onion and celery, and remaining ingredients, adding a little prune juice if necessary. This stuffing is suitable for the crop or neck of the turkey. To use it as a stuffing for a whole turkey, add 4–6 cups fresh breadcrumbs, enough stock or orange juice to moisten and a whole egg to bind.

Fresh Herb Stuffing

Makes enough to stuff a small turkey or large chicken

  • 2 cups soft white breadcrumbs
  • 60 g butter
  • 3–4 tablespoons chopped Continental parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme or lemon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped marjoram
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season
  • grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

Spread the breadcrumbs on a baking tray and dry in a 160°C oven for about 20 minutes. Melt the butter and combine in a large bowl with the toasted crumbs and the remaining ingredients. If the lemon is large and very juicy, use the juice of only half the lemon. Allow the mixture to cool, and stuff the bird just before roasting.

Check out these great Margaret Fulton titles in the bookstore


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