For Thanksgiving, the turkey may be the star of the feast, but it’s the supporting players that steal the show. Every year we have the same conversation, “Why don’t we do this more often?” — not about the whole meal, but the sides.
Particularly the stuffing. It’s always a favorite and so versatile, it can accompany virtually everything.
Boxed stuffing has its place, but instead, let’s make it from scratch. If you’ve been getting your stuffing from a box, prepare to be amazed — as will everyone else at the table.
You can improve your stuffing game by drying your own bread. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, check the day-old bakery rack looking for loaves of sourdough, ciabatta, artisan breads, like rosemary or olive, or cornbread. Whatever bread you choose, tear into 1-inch pieces and let dry overnight on a baking sheet.
Unless you’re vegetarian, stuffing always benefits from the savory salt and fat provided by sausage or bacon. Be sure to always brown the meat before adding.
While no stuffing is complete without a hearty dose of onion and celery, it’s the combination of butter, eggs and broth that gives it the rich, custardy quality we love and helps ensure a crunchy top. But it’s the extra ingredients that give stuffing personality.
Feel free to experiment. For example, consider:
Apple Cranberry Pecan — Use 12 ounces maple sausage, add 1 cup apple, chopped; 1/2 cup pecans, chopped; 1/2 cup dried cranberries.
Bacon Parmesan — Use 12 ounces thick-cut bacon, chopped. As you mix the stuffing, add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary.
Vegetarian or Vegan — Substitute 1 pound mushrooms, coarsely chopped, for the meat. Sauté with aromatics until they’re lovely and caramelized. To make it vegan, substitute olive or coconut oil for butter, swap vegetable broth for the chicken stock and omit the eggs.
Stuffing is a most frugal way to give any meal some pizzazz. Essentially, you’re serving zhuzhed up stale bread with some veggies.
Remember this when you need a side dish everyone loves. Now you have a reason to eat stuffing all year.
Classic Thanksgiving Stuffing
1 (16-ounce) loaf bread, cut into 1-inch pieces and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 to 16 ounces sausage, bacon or mushrooms
1 1/2 cups onion, diced
1 1/2 cups celery, diced
2 cups add-ins, optional
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
3/4 cup butter, divided
2 to 4 cups chicken or turkey broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by 13-inch baking dish. Place dried bread in a large bowl. In a skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil. Cook selected meat, breaking into crumbles, until well-browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to bowl with bread mixture.
Into the same skillet, add onions, celery and any additional aromatics. Season with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Cook, stirring often, until onions are translucent. Add any extras, like apple or peppers, cooking until soft. Add 1/2 cup butter, letting it melt. This infuses the butter with all that aromatic flavor.
Scrape aromatics and butter into the bread mixture. In a bowl, whisk together eggs and 2 cups broth, and add to bread mixture. Season with salt and pepper, and toss until combined, adding more stock 1/2 cup at a time to ensure bread is fully moistened.
Transfer stuffing to prepared baking dish. Cut remaining butter into small pieces and dot the top. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until golden, 20 more minutes.