Stuff It or Dress It? 5 Local Chefs Share Thanksgiving Meal Tips

By Jennifer Tersigni
November 20, 2014

With Thanksgiving almost here, you might still be deciding what "go-to" dish to serve. Or, you might be deciding that it’s the perfect year to try something new. What’s a chef like you to do? And, do you know the difference between stuffing and dressing?

We thought about that, too. So we asked some of Tucson’s top chefs for advice to help make your meal a true delight.

Each of our chefs highlighted the importance of cooking your bird to 165 degrees, but that’s where the similarities ended.

Stuff it or dress it? You decide….

“Dress It”

Chef Ryan Clark, Agustín Kitchen

Agustín Kitchen Dressing for Thanksgiving
Agustín Kitchen Dressing for Thanksgiving (Photo by Mark Navarro)

Chef Clark never roasts whole turkeys. He believes the taste is optimized and enhanced by cooking each section of the bird individually to cure, flavor and cook each piece – whether breast, thigh, leg or wing – according to its own unique temperature and time. He recommends separating the bird into pieces, curing each section, and then cooking each part to perfection.

Obviously, you can't stuff a separated bird.

Chef Clark says a great, elegant meal can be quite simple. Here's how:

  • Source your meal with all local ingredients, organic vegetables and Heritage birds are best.
  • Choose a limited number of dishes to accompany your turkey – 4 or 5 at most.
  • To create a simple culinary infusion, use the same ingredients that you plan to serve in other side dishes to build your Dressing.

Chef Clark's Dressing: "Start with organic bread, found at your local bakery. Choose a bread with nuts or dried fruit, like an organic sourdough pecan, and whatever you do, stay away from white bread. Chef Clark recommends using yams, Brussels Sprouts, other seasonal autumn vegetables on the day’s menu, and dried fruit like figs to build your Dressing. If you follow his advice and break the turkey into pieces, use the bones and gizzards to cook your homemade stock in advance, then add your stock before baking it. Don’t over saturate the mix; keep it fluffy, adding just enough stock for taste and cohesion. Bake it at 350 in your favorite casserole dish and serve."

Agustín Kitchen was recently honored as one of the Top 7 Cocktail Bars in Arizona by Where Traveler and is open for Thanksgiving from 11am to 5pm. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (520) 398-5382. More information at agustinkitchen.com.

“Stuff It and Dress It"

Chef Jared Scott, Maynards Market & Kitchen

Traditionally Inspired Thanksgiving Meal from Maynard's Kitchen's Chef Jared Scott
Traditionally Inspired Thanksgiving Meal from Maynard's Kitchen's Chef Jared Scott ( (Photo by Mark Navarro))

Chef Jared Scott describes himself as a traditionalist when preparing Thanksgiving Dinner and finds nothing wrong with stuffing the bird. In fact, he views stuffing as a vessel to infuse flavors into the turkey in addition to accompanying it.

He recommends utilizing all of the gizzards, organs, and liver not only to prepare your rue and gravy, but to use as ingredients in your stuffing. Start with your bread of choice. Add onions, celery, garlic and other vegetables, dried fruits like cranberries, and nuts such as pecans, pistachios, or walnuts. Chef Jared insists on high herb content, placing lots of herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme in the stuffing mix and under the skin of the bird. As soon as your turkey reaches 165º, remove it from the oven and let it rest. He recommends baking the remainder of your mixture as Dressing in a separate pan to ensure that you have enough to serve all your guests.

But Chef Jared didn’t stop there. He prepared a number of accompaniments for us, which we've included in recipe form below. Whether you’re a vegetarian, or a meat lover, these dishes are scrumptious, and sure to add zest to your holiday meal.

Whipped Acorn Squash

Chef Jared Scott, Maynards Market & Kitchen
  • 4ea Acorn Squash
  • 4oz Butter, melted
  • 4oz Cream
  • 2oz Maple syrup
  • 3oz Walnut
  • .5oz Orange zest
  • .5oz Parsley chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. To clean your acorn squash, cut them in half and take out the center seeds.
  2. Oil the acorn squash and then season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast in an oven at 350 degrees until the squash is nice and tender, about 1 hour.
  4. Once the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven. Using a spoon, scoop the insides of the squash into a standing mixer bowl, leaving the skins behind.
  5. Once you have your squash in the mixer, begin to whip the squash using the whisk attachment. On low. Add you melted butter, cream, maple syrup, and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Turn the mixer on medium-high for about 2-3 minutes to get a good smooth texture.
  7. I like to serve my whipped acorn squash with some walnuts, orange zest, and parsley on top.

Sautéed Haricot Vert (Green beans), with shallot and blue cheese

Chef Jared Scott, Maynards Market & Kitchen
  • 8oz Haricot vert
  • 3oz shallot, sliced
  • .5oz garlic chopped
  • 2oz white wine
  • 2oz butter
  • 2oz Maytag blue cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. The most important step is to blanch the haricot vert properly in a large pot of boiling water with lots of salt. The water should be as salty as the sea. Blanch the haricot vert for about 45 seconds – 1 minute depending their size. Then immediately be cool it off in a water and ice bath. Remove them from the water and ice bath as soon as they cool off to prevent them from tasting like water.
  2. Heat a sauté pan to medium high heat.
  3. First add the shallots. Once they have started to sweat, add the haricot vert and garlic. Continue to sauté the vegetables until they are heated throughout. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and immediately add your cheese and butter. Continue to stir the pan until the butter and blue cheese have created a coating on the haricot vert. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

*I like to serve my haricot vert with a little extra blue cheese crumbled over top.

Brown Butter Onion & Citrus Cranberry Sauce

Chef Jared Scott, Maynards Market & Kitchen
  • 2lb Fresh cranberries
  • 5oz Butter
  • 5oz White onion, small dice
  • 1 Can lemon/lime soda
  • 2 Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Begin by melting the butter, and then increase the heat until it starts to brown. Once brown, begin to sauté the onions in it until they become translucent.
  2. Once the onions are cooked, add the fresh cranberries and lemon/lime soda. Continue to cook on a low heat until all the liquid is gone. Season with salt and pepper.

*I enjoy this take on cranberry sauce because the brown butter adds a lovely nuttiness to the dish.

Maynards Market & Kitchen is serving dinner family style on Thanksgiving from 11a - 7p. Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling (520) 545-0577. For more information visit maynardstucson.com.

“Dress It”

Chef Jamie Eldredge, Noble Hops

Roast Turkey (Photo Credit: Tuchodi on flickr)
Roast Turkey (Photo Credit: Tuchodi on flickr)

Chef Eldredge firmly believes that, “you should never ever stuff a turkey, for two very important reasons..."

First, bread crumbs are natural sponges so when you fill the cavity of the bird you’re essentially stuffing it with hundreds of tiny little sponges that will soak up all of the delicious turkey juices and render your bird dry and flavorless.

Second, and possibly more important, stuffing your turkey significantly increases your chances of catching a food borne illness,” especially if it isn’t cooked to 165 degrees. He always advises people to brine their turkey, and to bake Dressing as a side dish.

A native New Englander, Chef Eldredge makes a northeastern style stuffing with chopped steamed lobster, fried oyster croutons, and an array of roasted nuts such as pistachios and chestnuts. He chooses corn bread, instead of a wheat-based bread, as the main component, and uses fresh homemade shell fish stock to moisten the entire dish. Shellfish was abundant in the Northeast, where the nation’s first Thanksgiving feasts were celebrated. He believes seafood is more closely associated with the type of food that would have been served at the first Thanksgiving.

Noble Hops is located in Oro Valley. For more information, visit noblehopspub.com.

“Stuff It and Dress It”

Patrick Malarchik, Union Public House

Stuffing (Photo Credit: Thanksgiving, Angela N., Flickr)
Stuffing (Photo Credit: Thanksgiving, Angela N., Flickr)

Chef Malarchik says, “When it comes to deciding to serve a Thanksgiving turkey, the decision between stuffing and dressing is always a difficult one. I grew up on stuffing and having all the juices from a brined turkey roasted into the stuffing while it cooks is a flavor that cannot be beat. As I made may way into the restaurant business, I learned that many chefs prefer dressing to keep from overcooking the bird while waiting for the stuffing to reach a safe 165 degrees.”

To obtain the best of both worlds – a perfectly cooked turkey and a delicious, turkey juice infused stuffing – Chef Malarchik uses a combination method. He starts by mixing bread, vegetables, herbs, rendered bacon and apples, and stuffs the bird with this mixture. He roasts the bird to the safe 165 degrees and then takes it out of the oven to rest while he removes the stuffing and transfers it to a ceramic dish. Then he places the stuffing in a baking dish, brushes it with melted butter, and returns it to the oven at 350 degrees. After twenty minutes, the stuffing will obtain a temperature of 165 degrees (helping to ensure its safety) and develop a golden brown crust. Remove the stuffing from the oven, and carve the fully rested turkey.

But don’t forget the gravy! To Chef Malarchik, Thanksgiving dinner is only as good as the gravy that ties all the components together. He always tries to find the perfect bite of dark meat, mashed potatoes, stuffing, a dollop of cranberry sauce – all covered in gravy.

Union Public House is located in St. Phillips Plaza. For more information, visit uniontucson.com.

“Dress It”

Chef Andrew Verrier, Wildflower

Chef Verrier prefers to fry his turkey – and if you do, then Dressing is the only way to go. He encourages you to brine your turkey a few days in advance for the best tasting bird possible. He encourages you to source your meal with fresh ingredients – nothing from a box or a can.

To prepare his dressing, Chef Verrier likes to use day-old bread, roasted chestnuts, lots of herbs, mushrooms, celery, onions, cranberries – and, of course, chicken or turkey stock. In addition to dressing, he likes to serve Sweet Potato Casserole and Homemade Cranberry Sauce.

One special dish Chef Verrier makes is a healthy Chopped Vegetable Salad. To prepare it for your family, find the best seasonal vegetables (squash, beets, greens, Brussels Sprouts and peppers, for example), and skip the lettuce altogether. Become your very own culinary artist – roast some, grill others, blanch a few and leave some raw. Toss them together with vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper and serve. It’s a special delight.

Wildflower is Fox Restaurant's flagship store. Visit them online at foxrc.com.

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