I’ve never had Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant, unless you count my honeymoon, on which my husband and I had our Thanksgiving meal at Round Table Pizza in Bali (weird but true) before flying home to feast on my mom’s glorious leftovers. The adventure of putting the meal together – always a shared effort, never flawless but always memorable – is part of the holiday fun.
In college I teamed up with a few friends who, like me, lived too far away to go home for the short break, and we jury-rigged a fanciful meal in the dorms that even included oyster stuffing. On a Thanksgiving holiday to Florida with my in-laws, we bought a rotisserie chicken, cooked up stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, accidentally clogged up the condo garbage disposal with potato peels and had to call in a plumber on Thanksgiving Day.
Regardless of how much food is cooked or bought, the at-home setting is as essential to me as the fixings of the turkey dinner. I want to enjoy the meal at leisure, to talk and laugh and relax. I want seconds, thirds, and a nap on the couch as I wait to fit in some pie.
For the Thanksgiving spread, I think it makes perfect sense to make the things that you love and outsource things you don’t. Even Ed Levine of Serious Eats has a semi-homemade Thanksgiving using a dressed-up version of Pepperidge Farm’s packaged stuffing mix. Though when you cook in quantity, it’s more economical to start from scratch.
Stuffing can be as quick or drawn-out as you’d like. Start with dried bread cubes for convenience, or cut bread days ahead and put the cubes out to dry in a mixing bowl. I like the anticipation of starting the process, and, unaccountably, the kids love sampling the plain bites of bread.
All kinds of bread make good stuffing, though in general it’s good to use light-textured breads so that the stuffing it isn’t too dense. I have a crusty white Italian loaf here, which I am going to mix half-and-half with cornbread. But I also like half white, half whole-wheat. The original Silver Palate recipe, on which this recipe is based, uses an equal mix of all three. It’s all good.
You can make cornbread days in advance, or buy it well in advance too. Just a few ingredients for cornbread: cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt; buttermilk, milk, egg, baking soda. This recipe uses a lot of leavening, as cornmeal is much heavier than flour, and we want to keep the texture light. Commercial cornbread has a lot of sugar, but you don’t need it here.
In general, dry bread makes better stuffing, as it lets you replace its moisture with savory broth. My Italian cubes are somewhat dry, but my cornbread is going to be fresh. Either way, it’s going to be good.
Wet ingredients into dry, then butter drizzled in.
Heat the pan while you preheat the oven, then throw in some butter or bacon grease and pour in the batter. It makes for a better crust.
This is a double batch.
Now to the stuffing. Slip sausage meat out of its casing and cook, breaking the meat into crumbles. I like to use chicken sausage, which produces very little grease.
Into the bread cubes it goes.
Now to the veg and fruit. Prep it all first.
And melt the butter.
Cook up the onion and celery with dried herbs, salt and pepper. Though surprisingly you don’t need any herbs at all – my mother-in-law only mixes in a bit of sugar with her onion and celery, and it still tastes like stuffing.
In to the bowl as well.
For my double batch, I didn’t have room to cook the apples with the onions and celery. But you could.
Apples in, and cornbread cubes.
Drizzle in chicken broth, going slowly once it starts looking moist. Taste as you go. You’ll want enough broth that the bread cubes are moist through but not squishy. The amount of broth you’ll need depends on the dryness of your bread.
Fresh herbs last. I have parsley here, though fresh thyme or sage would be fantastic. Or even a little fresh rosemary.
Some people say it should be called dressing if it’s not cooked inside the bird. But where I come from, it’s called stuffing no matter what.
Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage and Apples
A great basic, based on the classic Silver Palate recipe, that you can tweak as you like: leave out sausage, add nuts, use dried cranberries instead of apples.
- 4 cups stale bread cubes (a light-textured bread is best)
- 4 cups cornbread cubes (cornbread recipe in notes below)
- 1/2 pound Italian sausage
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups chopped celery (4-5 stalks)
- 1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
- 2 cups apple (2 large apples, no need to peel)
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- 2 cups (approximately) chicken broth
- Put bread cubes in large mixing bowl.
- In a large skillet or wide pot, cook sausage meat (removed from casing) over medium heat, breaking up meat into crumbles as it cooks. When fully cooked and browned, remove sausage and add to bowl with bread cubes. Discard any excess oil.
- Return pan to heat, and melt butter in skillet. Cook onions and celery until translucent. Add apples and cook until softened. Add salt, pepper, sugar and dried herbs. Pour mixture in with the bread cubes.
- Stir together contents of mixing bowl. Add chicken broth gradually, mixing well between additions. Amount of broth needed will depend on the dryness of the bread. You’ll want enough broth that the bread cubes are moist through but not squishy.
- Add parsley and mix. Adjust salt, pepper and seasonings to taste.
- Bake in buttered baking pan at 350-375 degrees F until top is golden brown (20-25 minutes if baked immediately; 40-45 minutes if refrigerated first).
- Bell’s poultry seasoning is a great one-stop option for dried herbs. Or use fresh (you’ll need three times as much as dried). Or be like my mother-in-law and use no herbs at all, just a spoonful or two of sugar – surprisingly it still tastes like Thanksgiving stuffing.
- For a lighter stuffing, leave out the sausage.
- You can also make this recipe without cornbread. All kinds of bread make good stuffing, though in general it’s good to use light-textured breads so that the stuffing it isn’t too dense. But I also like half white, half whole-wheat. And sourdough stuffing is great too.
- Buttermilk cornbread recipe, adapted from Pioneer Woman: mix dry ingredients (1 cup cornmeal, 1/2 cup flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon kosher salt) with wet ingredients (1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup milk, 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda) until just combined. Mixture will start to foam. Drizzle in 1/4 cup melted butter. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in hot cast iron skillet (or baking dish that has been preheating in the oven), and add batter. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until cornbread is fully cooked and edges are golden.
Here’s the link to a printable version.