I know I’m not alone in thinking that stuffing – also called dressing – is the best part of Thanksgiving dinner.
I love its mix of textures and flavors, the crunchy roasted nuts with soft, broth-soaked bread and chewy morsels of spiced sausage. Oh, mama, that’s good stuff!
As the self-designated stuffing-maker in my house, I’ve tweaked and tested my recipe over the years until finally settling on this one easy method.
There are two keys to good stuffing: the proportion of ingredients and the amount of stock used to soak the bread. With the ingredients, you want a little taste of each thing every few bites. This means a healthy cup or so each of nuts, sausage, vegetables and fruit. The bread binds everything together, so I always pick a good one. Sourdough is my favorite, although one year I used pumpkin bread for a fantastic sweet-savory twist.
I bake my stuffing separately from the turkey, opting for more control over the cooking. I also like stuffing fairly moist, like a panade, so I add enough broth to come about 3/4 up the side of the baking dish – this is roughly 3 to 4 cups when baking in a 3-quart casserole dish. If you don’t like stuffing quite so saturated, use less stock.
A few other tricks for great stuffing: Toast the bread until it’s completely dry; this helps it to absorb the stock and hold its shape during cooking. Toast the nuts while you’re at it. If you don’t like fruit in your stuffing, add extra vegetables instead. You can toast the bread and cook the sausage filling the day ahead to save some time on Thanksgiving Day, but wait to mix it with the egg and stock until just before cooking.
Emma Christensen is recipe editor for TheKitchn.com, a website for people who love food and home cooking.
HEAT the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange two oven racks, one in the top half of the oven and the other in the lower half.
SLICE the bread into small cubes, removing the crusts if desired. Spread the cubes in a single layer between two baking sheets. Toast for 10 minutes. Stir the bread cubes and add the chopped nuts. Toast until the bread is completely dry and the walnuts are toasted, 8-10 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and cool.
INCREASE the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
BROWN the sausage with a sprinkle of salt over medium heat, breaking it up into crumbles as you cook, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cooked sausage to a bowl and drain off all but a few teaspoons of the fat.
IN THE SAME PAN over medium heat, cook the onions with a sprinkle of salt until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and continue cooking until the celery is softened, 5 minutes longer. Add the fruits, if using, and the fresh herbs. Cook until the apples are just starting to soften, 1-3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Remove from heat.
COMBINE the sausage, vegetables and fruits, bread cubes and nuts in a large mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs and pour over the stuffing. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir until all the ingredients are evenly coated.
POUR the stuffing into the baking dish. It’s OK if the stuffing is mounded in the middle. If you have leftover stuffing that doesn’t quite fit, bake it separately in ramekins.
POUR the stock evenly over the surface of the stuffing. If you prefer stuffing on the dry side, add 2-3 cups of stock; if you like moist stuffing, add 3-4 cups.
COVER the stuffing with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top is crispy and golden, 15-20 minutes. Cool briefly before serving.Yield: 8 to 10 servings.