Ever wonder about a boxed mix you've seen in the store? Is it any good? Could it replace something you'd otherwise make from scratch? Welcome to Mixed Review, where the whole point is putting boxed mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.
Last week, the folks at Serious Eats World Headquarters published an exhaustive stuffing taste test. But their test was limited to readily available supermarket mixes, which left some of you wondering—what about the specialty mixes at gourmet shops?
Recently, Williams Sonoma debuted a line of stuffing mixes from Southern California's famed La Brea bakery. I'm sure I don't need to tell you about Nancy Silverton, La Brea's owner. But in a nutshell, she is one of the country's most esteemed bakers, credited with the revival of artisanal bread that began a little more than 20 years ago.
For this week's Mixed Review, I tested La Brea's Harvest Blend Stuffing Mix ($12) and compared it to regular old Stovetop (less than $2 at most supermarkets). Considering that the La Brea mix consisted of croutons and little packets of dried cranberries and pecans, could it really be worth the money?
Preparing the La Brea mix was only slightly easier than making stuffing from scratch (then again, let's face it: making stuffing from scratch isn't that hard). First, I sauteed an onion and three stalks of celery in some olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper. Then I transferred the mixture to a bowl and added the croutons, dried cranberries, and pecans. The croutons were big and chunky and redolent with rosemary, but the pecans seemed a little soggy and flat, as if they could use a good toasting.
I ladled about three and a half cups of warmed chicken stock over the mix, tossing it to make sure all the croutons were well saturated. Then I spread it in a 9x13-inch glass baking dish covered it with foil, and baked it for 20 minutes. Then I removed the foil and baked it for an additional 30 minutes, until the stuffing was crispy and brown on top. Whew.All told, preparing the mix took 30 minutes of active time and 50 minutes of baking time. Not to mention I went through a cutting board, chopping knife, saute pan, mixing bowl, saucepan and ladle (for the stock), and a baking dish.
By contrast, the Stovetop took about six minutes to prepare. I brought one and a half cups of water and four tablespoons of butter to a boil, dumped in the packet of mix, covered the pot, and let it stand for five minutes. Done and done.
Which Tasted Better?
Not surprisingly, the La Brea mix was the winner by far. While super easy and convenient, the Stovetop mix was soggy, too salty, and aggressively seasoned. The La Brea mix was the perfect texture. Each bite was a combination of soft bread and crunchy toast. The rosemary was prominent without being overpowering, and the cranberries added a nice tart note. But the pecans got lost, and overall I wanted just a bit more flavor. A hint of sea salt would have been nice, a few more herbs, or an additional kind of dried fruit.
In the end I would say that making stuffing from scratch is your best option. But if you're set on using a store-bought mix this Thanksgiving, the La Brea Harvest Blend is a solid (if expensive) choice. Save the Stovetop for busy weeknights--it has no place on holiday tables.