I've always been a stuffing purist; until this weekend I'd never eaten stuffing made from a mix. But when I noticed Canterbury Organics' stuffing mixes on the shelves of Whole Foods last week, branded in muted oranges and browns like a feature in a lifestyle magazine and promising to "delight the palate," I was curious. It looked as though it might taste good.
It got me thinking: Now that natural food companies are in on the packaged-food and semi-homemade trend, is there a broad enough range of mixes on the market to have a taste test? If I was going to taste one end of the packaged-stuffing spectrum, I was going to taste the full spectrum.
After the jump, the results of the Serious Eats taste test of eight packaged stuffing mixes, along with some suggestions on jazzing up your store-bought stuffing.
Five Serious Eaters tried eight packaged stuffing mixes, all made according to package instructions with unsalted butter and tap water. All were priced between $2.49 and $4.99.
- Arnold Premuim Cornbread Stuffing
- Arnold Premium Seasoned Stuffing
- Canterbury Organics Rosemary Sage Cornbread Dressing
- Canterbury Organics Rosemary Sage Dressing
- 365 Organic Traditional Stuffing Mix With Chicken Flavor
- 365 Organic Traditional Stuffing Mix With Cranberries and Chicken Flavor
- Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Whole Wheat and White Stuffing Mix
- Pepperidge Farm One Step Stuffing Mix
- Stove Top Cornbread Stuffing Mix
- Stove Top Turkey Stuffing Mix
1. Herbal Balance (enough, but not too much of the flavors of sage, onion, rosemary etc.)
2. Moisture (soft, but not gummy)
3. Discernible bread texture (actual pieces of bread rather than "baby food")
The responses were consistent across the panel. Both of the Arnold mixes were bland and slightly gloppy. The lifestyle-targeted Canterbury Organics had great bread presence but a Melba toast taste. Pepperidge Farm was middle of the road. The winners? Whole Foods' house brand, 365 Organic, in both chicken-flavored and chicken flavored with cranberries, and Stove Top turkey-flavored.
When tasting blind we all agreed that Stove Top turkey had the best flavor, with the 365 entries as close seconds. Considering that the 365 mixes don't contain MSG or corn syrup, they were the overall favorite once we had background information.
If you are going to make stuffing and use any of the suggestions below as add-ins, you may want to go that extra step and make your own seasoned bread base. But if you want to keep it is simple as possible, consider picking up a bag of 365 Organic and adding some of these elements.
Pimp My Store-Bought Stuffing
All store-bought mixes benefit from the addition of sautéed celery and onion, and the use of broth in place of water.
Other add-ins can be added according to taste, but a good rule of thumb is that about a cup of each add-in is sufficient to enhance but not overwhelm a pound of stuffing mix, up to two add-ins (in addition to celery and onions) per pound. Cut add-ins into small pieces so you get some in each bite.
And if you have a great add-in suggestion you don't see below, let us know!
- Leeks and carrots
- Pears and walnuts
- Dried cherries and almonds
- Blanched broccoli rabe and toasted pine nuts
- Blanched escarole and golden raisins
- Crisp bacon and figs
- Sautéed chicken livers and dried currants
- Sweet Italian sausage and pecans
- Kielbasa and (very well-drained) sauerkraut
- Chorizo and roasted red pepper
- Apples and smoked eel (available frozen at many Asian grocery stores)