Ever since I was a little girl my favorite Thanksgiving side dish has been the stuffing, although technically this is dressing since it is cooked outside the bird but I don’t think many people make that distinction. I suppose that is why I learned how to make it and took over on that part of the cooking at a pretty young age, and why I continue to offer to bring it each year when we head out to our family feast. It’s definitely evolved over the years, but this is nothing fancy, it is the most basic of stuffing recipes and one I think will taste familiar to most.
I’ve made it so many times it is pretty amazing it has never made it’s way to a blog post, but it always seems to late to talk about as Thanksgiving will be over by the time I get the post up. But not this year! Our church had a Thanksgiving lunch today and I decided to bring my old stand by, which would allow me to cook and photograph it ahead of the big day for a change.
I start two days ahead by tearing up the bread and leaving it out to dry. Since the bread is the star here you will want to use a loaf (or two!) of really good bread. For the last 5 plus years I have been using the large Sour French loaves from Costeaux bakery in Healdsburg. They have the perfect balance of crusty exterior and fluffy center, and of course tastes amazing. Costeaux is worth making a trip for as they have so many delicious things, but fortunately I can pick up their bread at my local market here in Petaluma. Many recipes will have you toast your bread in the oven, but since my Granny didn’t do that neither do I. I will, however, move the bread to the stove top while I have the oven on which really speeds the process up. It’s also good to flip it once or twice a day so it is evenly exposed to the air.
I also added in a little sausage the same year I started using Costeaux’s bread, and since that year it was so good I have kept that up as well! I use a very basic country style sausage from my butcher, browning it well before adding to the bread. Use the same pan to saute your celery and onions being sure to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom, you’ll want all that flavor in the finished dish. I also dice up any leaves on the celery which add a lot of flavor.
Once you have the bread chunks, sausage, celery, onions, and parsley in a bowl (or in my case stockpot, whatever you have that is big enough to mix it in) it is time to start seasoning. I add a bit of the chicken broth, then salt, freshly ground black pepper, and some of the sage. I mix with my wooden spoon and repeat until the mixture is fairly moist and evenly seasoned. Basically you don’t want to dump all the salt, pepper, and sage on the top and just stir because it will not be evenly distributed when you’re working with such a large batch of bread. I also have to mention the amazing quality of Morton & Bassett sage. All their spices are incredible, but I truly think their sage stands out.
At this point you’ll need to continue adding chicken broth, and a little butter, until the mixture is moist throughout without getting soggy. I know this sounds vague, and I do find it a little hard to put into words, but the best thing is to start mixing it with your (very clean) hands so you get a feel for where you’re at moisture wise. Your hands also have the added benefit of being able to break up some of the smaller pieces of bread and get everything mixed together well. Add a little melted butter in, and then pour the whole mixture into a well buttered baking dish and top with more melted butter. It isn’t butter heavy, but you do need some for both flavor and that perfect golden brown crust!
I do everything to this point the night before, then bake the stuffing on Thanksgiving morning while I do what all good American’s do and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ok, I only half watch the parade, but if you’ve seen Miracle on 34th Street every year since you were six you become pretty attached to the parade.
Bake it uncovered until the crust is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out hot. If it is getting too brown you can cover it in foil, and definitely cover in foil before reheating if that is necessary. The recipe that follows is for a crowd, but you can easily half it for a smaller portion. I knew even this size batch wouldn’t feed an entire church, but funnily enough it was the woman in front of me in line who got the last bit. And by bit, I mean bit! She even said to me that it looked so good she was going to take the last of it. I told her not to worry as I had made it and would be having plenty myself on Thursday.
Classic Thanksgiving Stuffing
- 2 loaves high quality bread not pre-sliced
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp canola oil divided
- 1 lb sausage not in casing
- 2 yellow onions diced
- 5 ribs celery with leaves, diced
- 1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley chopped
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 3 tbsp dried sage
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Tear bread into bite size pieces and dry on rimmed baking sheet for approximately 2 days. Flip bread 1-2 times daily to assure even drying.
- When you are ready to make the stuffing, use 2-3 tablespoons of the butter to thoroughly grease a large baking dish, the one I use is 14x11x3. Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan or microwave.
- Brown sausage in 1 teaspoon canola oil over medium high heat. While sausage is browning transfer bread to large mixing bowl or stockpot (anything big enough to mix the stuffing in). When the sausage is brown add directly to bread, no need to drain.
- Return skillet to stove, add remaining 2 teaspoons of canola oil, reduce heat to medium. Saute until onions and celery are soft, using wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. A cover can be useful here if you are working with one large batch of veggies, alternately you can saute in two batches. Once celery and onions are soft add to stuffing.
- Add parsley, then use wooden spoon to stir stuffing and evenly distribute sausage and veggies.
- Pour about 1 cup of chicken stock over stuffing, then season with 1/3 of the salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon sage, mix well. Repeat twice, distributing the broth and seasonings throughout the mixture. Pour half of the melted butter into the stuffing and mix well.
- At this point it is best to start mixing the stuffing with your very clean hands. Using a squeezing motion break up some of the smaller pieces of bread, adding more chicken stock as necessary. This recipe lists 4 cups, but you will likely use at least 5 if your bread is really dry. Use your best judgement here, you will want the stuffing to be very moist without being sopping wet, and the amount of broth you use will be dependent on how dry the bread is. Do not be alarmed if you use 6 cups of broth.
- Pour the stuffing into the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining melted butter. At this point you can cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
- When ready to bake, heat oven to 375°. Bake stuffing uncovered for 1-1 1/2 hours until golden brown and knife inserted in the center comes out hot. If the stuffing is getting too brown cover loosely with foil. If reheating is necessary cover with foil.
- Serve with turkey, gravy, and all the trimmings!
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