Stuffing fit for a bird

I have previously given instructions for preparing an entire Roast Chicken Meal but have not really looked at the history of stuffing and the options for Stuffing a Bird.  By bird I refer primarily to Chicken  as this is what we would generally prepare however stuffing is used in all birds such as Duck, Turkey and more extravagant game birds like Goose and Pheasant.

Roast Bird

Stuffing or filling (specifically for poultry) is an edible substance or mixture, often a starch, used to fill a cavity in another food item while cooking.   Stuffing should not be confined to the cavities of birds, although this is my purpose here, see below for some additional uses.

Almost anything can serve as a stuffing, many popular Anglo-American stuffings contain bread or cereals, usually together with vegetables, herbs and spices, and/or eggs.

  • One of the most common stuffings is made from Sage, Onion and Breadcrumbs – see recipe below
  • The giblets are often used in a bread based stuffing or in a  stuffing based on sausage meat.
  • In England, a popular stuffing is sausage meat seasoned with various ingredients, sage, onion, apple, etc.
  • Oysters are used in one traditional stuffing for Thanksgiving. These can be combined with mashed potatoes, for a heavy stuffing.
  • Fruits and dried fruits can be added to stuffing including apples, dried prunes, apricots, and raisins.
  • Middle Eastern vegetable stuffings may be based on seasoned rice, couscous,  minced meat, nuts or a combination.
  • Stuffings can be made of vegetables and herbs with the optional addition of tofu or cheeses.


Sage and Onion Stuffing is a good place to start…

….this is enouch for one average sized chicken.

  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 1tbsp oil
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 100g (4oz) breadcrumbs
  • 1tbsp chopped fresh sage
  1. Heat the butter and oil, and cook the onion until softened.
  2. Stir in the breadcrumbs, sage and seasoning.
  3. Pat the bird dry, inside and out, with a paper towel
  4. Pack stuffing loosely into the cavity of the bird.
  5. Roast as usual or as per cooking instructions that came with the bird.

Stuffing is easy!!!

Think variety, flavour, texture, novelty…whats in the pantry….get creative…there are really no rules.


It is not known when stuffings were first used. The earliest documentary evidence is the Roman cookbook, Apicius ‘”De Re Coquinaria”, which contains recipes for stuffed chicken, hare, pig, and dormouse. Most of the stuffings described consist of vegetables, herbs andspices, nuts, and spelt (an old cereal), and frequently contain chopped liver, brains, and other organ meat.

Names for stuffing include ‘farce’ (~1390), ‘stuffing’ (1538), ‘forcemeat’ (1688), and ‘dressing’.  After about 1880, the term stuffing was replaced by dressing in Victorian English.  The stuffing mixture may be cooked separately and served as a side dish, in which case it may still be called ‘stuffing’, or in some regions, such as the Southern US, ‘dressing’.

In addition to stuffing the body cavity of animals, including mammals, birds, and fish, various cuts of meat may be stuffed after they have been deboned or a pouch has been cut into them. Popular recipes include stuffed chicken legs pork chops, slices of veal and joints of meat.

Early colonial pioneers in New Zealand had sheep aplenty, but goose was relatively scarce. To prepare dishes similar to those they had back home in the old country the pioneers were very inventive.  It involves the careful boning out a leg of lamb, stuffing it with honey and dried apricots, (in addition to traditional stuffing based on breadcrumbs, onion, parsley, thyme and orange) and then marinating it in a red wine based marinade which even gives it the appearance of goose when cooked.  Shaping the “Goose” added to the illusion.

Colonial Goose
Colonial Goose

I recall a budget version of the Colonial Goose that was made from minced meat wrapped around stuffing, shaped in an oval before being baked or wrapped in a cloth and boiled.  On carving this would give the illusion of being a boned out, stuffed bird. There is another budget meal of stuffed and rolled mutton flap. We never went to bed hungry.

Variety of applications

Many types of vegetables are also suitable for stuffing after their seeds or flesh has been removed. Tomatoes, capsicums and vegetable marrows (zucchini) may be prepared in this way with a bread, rice or meat based stuffing. We often dined on stuffed marrow as children and my children loved magic pumpkins.

Cabbages and similar vegetables can also be stuffed or wrapped around a filling. They are usually blanched first, in order to make their leaves more pliable. Then, the interior may be replaced by stuffing, or small amounts of stuffing may be inserted between the individual leaves.

Extreme feats of stuffing

It is sometimes claimed that the ancient Roman, as well as medieval, cooks stuffed animals with other animals. An anonymous Andalusiancookbook from the 13th century includes a recipe for a ram stuffed with small birds. A similar recipe for a camel stuffed with sheep stuffed with bustards stuffed with carp stuffed with eggs is mentioned in T.C. Boyle’s book Water Music.

British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has championed the ten-bird roast, calling it “one of the most spectacular and delicious roasts you can lay before your loved ones at Yuletide”. A large turkey is stuffed with a goose, duck, mallard, guinea fowl, chicken,pheasant, partridge, pigeon and woodcock. The roast feeds around 30 people, and as well as the ten birds, also includes stuffing made from two pounds of sausage meat and half a pound of streaky bacon along with sage, port and red wine.  This is perhaps the founding dish for the commercially available, and slightly smaller, Turducken.


Images sourced

2 thoughts on “Stuffing fit for a bird

  1. All the things I didn’t know about stuffing! Thank you, As for the “Colonial Goose” – this was a meal made by my mum when visitors were coming. Lamb was relatively cheap in those post-war days in the 1940’s but the stuffing was always superb. [I was never told that it was lamb we were eating – all I knew that it was a specialty for visitors and tasted so good [thanks to the stuffing].


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