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How to Stuff a Chicken

Before I go into detail on how to stuff a chicken, let's look at why we do it in the first place. It is by no means a universal thing and there's a reason for that. In countries where there is traditionally a large rural population and chicken has always been part of the staple diet, stuffing is practically unheard of. That's because it is not done, as some people believe, to keep the chicken moist but to make the meat go further. It is a stomach 'filler' in more than one sense of the word.

Where chicken has always been plentiful, stuffing a handful of flavored breadcrumbs into a bird destined for the oven has never been part of the culinary tradition. In places like Britain, where chicken was once a luxury dish enjoyed only on high days and holidays, stuffing became the norm. This concept of a small amount of meat made more satisfying by the addition of stuffing became extended to the point where a dish of stuffing was often cooked alongside the bird and not just in it. It was a great idea and, in my view, it still is, because it adds another dimension in terms of flavor and texture to the entire meal.

It can be as simple as a punctured whole lemon - a favorite in Italy - or an apple studded with cloves which I came across in Normandy, although these methods are employed simply to add flavor. To add substance we need something more. Breadcrumbs are the universal favorite of those that stuff, because they are cheap, easy to get hold of and, well, you can eat them. But they are not the only thing you can use. The Scots use oatmeal, for example, and very good it is too, but why stop there? Cornmeal, rice, burghul and couscous can all be used for stuffing, all you need to add is some flavor.

My basic flavoring consists of the zest of a lemon, freshly ground coriander and fennel seeds, a little salt and black pepper and the juice of the lemon to bind the whole thing together. It has a much lighter, fresher taste than the traditional sage and onion. While it's fine to fully stuff a chicken, turkey should only be stulfed at the neck end. Filling it full of bread will result in either a very prolonged cooking time or an awful lot of raw meat. If you want to serve extra stuffing, cook it separately, and bear in mind that the chicken, too, will require extra cooking time.

About 20 minutes should do the trick. Finally, just remember that these days you really don't have to stuff poultry at all if you don't want to. What was once a necessity has now become little more than a tasty tradition that you may or may not want to continue. And you can make up your own mind about that.

Michael Sheridan is a former head-chef and an acknowledged authority and published writer on cooking matters. His website at contains a wealth of information, hints, tips and recipes for busy home cooks


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