Monday, November 22, 2021

All-American Holiday Stuffing/Dressing with Sausage and Cheese (Everything I Learned About Stuffing in the Last 40 Years)

(I was really hoping to make this recipe my first video . . . Oh, well. It's a bit long, but it has lots of tips if you are nervous about making stuffing/dressing. Sorry for the lack of photographs. My goal is to begin videos sometime in 2023. This year, I am adding one small fennel bulb, diced to my veggie mixture. More on that in another blog.)

First, let me be clear on this! Nothing could be more sacred than the preparation of stuffing for the holidays. It is the golden sacrament of Thanksgiving and Christmas if any kind of bird is served.  It is our national communion. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to change or alter your family's usual stuffing unless you have been specifically asked or you have actually tested and tasted the newer one you plan to spring on them. Including this.

Here is my "old" stuffing. Don't get me wrong, it's 
to die for. It looks just like my mom's. But not as good as this recipe.

This recipe is the result of trying a bit of this and a bit of that over the years. It relies heavily on my family favorite, so the base has lots of butter, onion, celery and sausage.

However, I have made several major deviations. The first is the size of the bread. Through the years, bags of stuffing have devolved into almost stale bread crumbs. Crumbs! Chips! That creates a mushy stuffing with little to no texture or structure--and that's what I want. To solve the problem, I use three sizes of bread, so everyone is still able to sneak to the dish of stuffing to steal that nice browned "chunk" we love to pop into our mouth for that pre-meal fix.

Second, let's face it. As a country, we all love Stove Top Stuffing. The flavor is unbeatable. So I add a box. In fact, regardless of your stuffing recipe, you should, too! It's a game changer your entire table will appreciate. Most will never even know.

Stove Top will have the smallest pieces of bread. I don't care. It is flavor-consecrated and that is what we want. Next, like my mom, I use Pepperidge Farm Seasoned Bread CUBES. Sometimes, they are not easy to find, so shop early. They provide even more flavor. Make sure the package says "CUBES" otherwise you will get the bread "chips." And make sure they are seasoned.

Third, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I begin to save the end bits of artisan bread I usually have on hand. I tear them into rough, non-geometrical "one-inch-ish" non-geometrical chunks and just throw them into a bag. It is mostly white bread, but sometimes it has rye and whole wheat, too. 

Last, I always throw in a good handful of shaved Parmesan. You could also use a Granno Padano or Romano cheese. It makes a wonderful addition. I still use Jimmy Dean's sage breakfast sausage like my mother  ... but sometimes I sin and use a mild Italian sausage. Sometimes I simply do a mixture of both. It depends what I have on hand. Whatever you choose, do add the cheese!

Personally, I neither like nor appreciate a stuffing that resembles a fruit cake. I do not want apples, or cranberries, dried fruits, figs or nuts. Those items should be reserved for sides. Do not pollute the Holy Stuffing which you want pure and blessed by all who worship and partake.

I live in the South. Here, it is all about cornbread stuffing. I find it mushy. But that is all one hears .... cornbread stuffing this and cornbread stuffing that ....  "Well, Gary," I am often asked, "What kind of stuffing do you make?" Most have no idea about sausage stuffing. So, one day, I brought a pan to work and I had the bakery/deli department bake it up fresh.


It was more than a hit. My boss turned to me after shoving another forkful into his mouth. "This is the stuffing I have always dreamed about!" He said. "Is there cheese in here?" Then he wagged his finger in front of me . . . "And don't you ever tell my wife I said how good this is." (Her walnut pie is to die for. I had to beg and beg for the recipe ... walnut+pie).

Enough said .... 

The trickiest part of stuffing, I think, is knowing how much liquid to add. I go by two rules. One: If you put the stuffing in the oven wet, it will come out wet. Put it in dry, it will come out dry. Now here is why you want some large bread pieces. After mixing in the liquids, pick up a random large bread piece. Squeeze it a bit. It should not really be mushy--just spongy with some give-and-take. Perfect.

And don't be in a hurry. Let the bread mixture sit so it can absorb gently and slowly.

I have always advised . . . DO NOT USE CANNED chicken stock or bullion for stuffing. Buy a cheap pack of turkey necks or chicken wings and simmer in a pan with water, celery, onions, carrots and some fresh herbs. In fact, if you fry your turkey (the best ever), you should still do this so your house has the aroma of Turkey Church. If you have an Instant Pot, it is easy and quick to make tons of broth ahead of time and freeze in two or four-cup measures. 

Eggs? I buy medium eggs for this. For a long time, I simply never used them. But, through the years, I found their addition added a bit of "pudding-ness" and lift to the stuffing. I think small or medium eggs seem to have a more equal ratio of yolk to white and are easier to work with. 

Use quality butter, such as Plugra. I use salted. It's your call. And don't be afraid to add more butter if needed. Look at it this way ... this is a lot of bread .... If it were slices, how much butter would actually need to spread on each piece?

I begin with dried bread. That is the base from which you need to work. You will want a  total of 2 pounds dried bread (32 ounces), so go from there. Just so you know, my original recipe was 40 ounces or 2.5 pounds of bread. This recipe goes by weight, not volume, since it almost impossible to determine an exact, uniform volume for dried bread since people will cut it differently. One person's "cup" will not be similar to another's measurements. 

For this recipe, remember most of the breads are already seasoned, so don't go overboard on adding additional ones. Begin with less. Mix. Taste. Re-season. Do this before you add the raw eggs. Fresh, raw eggs don't bother me. If they do you, first add the stock. Taste, re-season, then mix in the eggs instead of mixing with the stock.

I once had a store where the bakery cut their own
bread by hand for great stuffing croutons. 
That's not happening anymore ....

  • 1 box Stove Top Stuffing (6 ounces) I use chicken-flavored.
  • 1 bag Pepperidge Farm CUBED Herb Stuffing (12 ounces)
  • 12-14 ounces bread torn into large random pieces and dried
  • 1/2 cup fresh shaved Parmesan or similar (a good handful)
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed 
  • 1 to 1.5 sticks butter (not margarine)
  • 1 lb. sage breakfast sausage (Jimmy Dean) or mild Italian, casings removed (or a combination of both)
  • 12 ounces chopped onion (about one large), yellow or white, finely diced
  • 12 ounces chopped celery (about 4-5 ribs) finely diced
  • 2 heaping tablespoons fresh-minced parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fine-minced fresh sage leaves OR 1 teaspoon, dried (optional) Be careful here. Sage can be overpowering, but it's the predominant taste you want for stuffing.
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves or  about 1/2 teaspoon dried leaves, slightly crushed (optional)
  • Powdered seasoning of your choice such as Bell's (highly recommended) poultry seasoning of your choice, or summer savory (optional)
  • 4 cups poultry stock, cooled or room temperature if homemade
  • 2-3 medium/small eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 fahrenheit degrees

Lightly grease your casserole dish or dishes. Sometimes I use bacon grease. You want the stuffing to be about 1.5-2 inches high in whatever sized dishes you use. This will easily give you a 13x9 pan of stuffing plus some extra. 

In the largest mixing bowl you own, dump all of your dried breads, parsley, and cheese. Lightly mix with your fingers to combine.

Melt butter in a large frying pan. Add your diced celery and onions. About halfway, add garlic and, if using, fresh sage.  Cook on medium just until vegetables are soft and translucent. Transfer to bowl.

In the same pan, add your sausage meat, breaking up clumps as you cook. After it loses its pink, add to bowl, grease and all. In the same pan, add about 2 cups of your stock to warm it up and to deglaze the pan.

Put remaining 2 cups of cold stock into a jug or small bowl. Add eggs and beat until well combined. Add to stuffing bowl and toss with your hands, fingers. Continue to add hot stock from pan until desired consistency is reached. If you run out of stock, it is okay to use water. Sometimes my mother used warm milk. If you have leftover stock, use for gravy. Be sure all the bread has absorbed the liquid and none have dry centers.

Taste for seasonings, including salt and pepper. Pepper is often underused in stuffing. If desired, sprinkle with some poultry seasoning.

Carefully arrange stuffing mix in your casserole dish(es). Before baking, I always sprinkle with just a bit of dried, crushed thyme flakes. Cover with foil. Bake until the center registers about 150-160, about 45-50 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15-30 minutes longer or until the top is golden and crisp. Keep an eye on it.

To Do Ahead: Bake until stuffing reaches 160. Remove from oven. Uncover to cool. Then re-cover and place in refrigerator. When ready to bake, uncover and bake until top is browned and warmed through. 

If you half this recipe, still use the full box of Stove Top and then 8 ounces each of the Pepperidge Farm and homemade bread chunks.