With the Christmas season well on its way, people are looking for ways to have all of their favourite parts of one of the most celebrated meals on the calendar, and one of the most unique is in pie form served with delicious mash from a food cab.
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to the trimmings they like the most, from cranberry sauce, pigs in blankets, gravy and roast potatoes. Some people even like Brussels sprouts if they’re cooked to perfection.
However, one of the most celebrated parts of any roast dinner, Christmas turkey included, is a delicious stuffing consisting of herbs, onion, breadcrumbs, garlic, butter and occasionally sausage meat, chestnuts and dried fruit, mixed together with an egg or other binding agent.
It has endured for centuries because it is an absolutely delicious accompaniment to most roast meat dishes, but what might be less well-known is why it was served with roast meats to begin with, and why it is typically stuffed into a turkey, chicken or duck before being cooked.
Whilst not every stuffing preparation involves literally stuffing the bird itself, there is an important and fascinating historical precedent for it.
The Roman Roast
The concept of stuffing is ancient, and whilst its first appearance in a cookery book is in the famous Apicus cookery manual dated to the fifth century AD, some recipes long predate this due to the use of an ingredient that no longer exists and it is possible stuffing is even older.
The stuffing, also known as “forcemeat” in later translations, uses hulled wheat, herbs, spices, nuts, vegetables and sometimes organ meats and was used not only for chicken, but pig, hare and dormouse as well.
As the Apicus was also a manual for exceptionally rich banquets, it even alluded to engastration, or the stuffing of animals with other animals.
However, what makes the Apicus recipes useful is that they illustrate not only that these stuffings were inserted into a cavity of the meat, but also provide some explanation as to why this may be.
During the roasting process, a common concern is an inconsistent level of cooking, which means that certain parts of the roast may be cooked more than others, typically manifesting as dry cuts and cuts that are rarer and bordering on undercooked.
Before the advent of more consistent ovens, baking foil and a greater knowledge of how and why meats are cooked through, one traditional solution was to stuff the roast.
This added flavour to the centre that would soak into the meat and often be part of its serving, and it also helped the meat to retain moisture, as it would be cooked more evenly and the stuffing expands as it absorbs the meat’s escaping juices
With that said, actually stuffing a turkey is not always necessary, and some cooks believe it can make the roast take longer to cook through, so ultimately stuffing has evolved from a necessary part of preparation to one of the best side dishes at Christmas.