On Thanksgiving, I don't think any dish inspires quite as much love and jealousy as stuffing. Or, for that matter, technical debate over stuffing vs. dressing. Sure, if it's baked inside the turkey it's stuffing, and if it's not, it's dressing. But to me, it will always be stuffing — it sounds so much more satisfying than dressing, which brings to mind vinaigrette.
And on my table, the stuffing is always some version of this classic sage and onion mix. No cornbread, oysters, or dried fruit for me. This is Pepperidge-esque, Stovetop-style stuffing — but all homemade and full of toasty flavor from good bread, and savor from turkey stock. This recipe is surprisingly simple; in fact, why not make some tonight? It never hurts to practice your stuffing, whatever you call it.
Let me describe this stuffing (dressing, if you insist). It starts with toasted bread — the drier and toastier the better. I don't bother with leaving it out all night; why leave crisp bread to the vagaries of the atmosphere. No, I bake it until browned and crisp in a low oven.
From there, bread dressing is almost laughably easy. It has one of these ingredient lists that seem weirdly bare; how could they possibly turn into that seductively delicious centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner? But all it takes is some onion, garlic, celery, and a bracing quantity of butter, along with turkey stock, which turns everything it touches to gold.
I like to make this ahead of time; I'll whip it up the night before Thanksgiving and leave it in the refrigerator, unbaked. Then I'll slip it into the oven when the turkey is done. This gives a stuffing with a slightly moister interior, and it may need to bake a few minutes longer. But I like a moist stuffing, just as if it baked inside the bird, and the convenience is a gift.
Classic Sage Dressing
Serves 6 to 8
16- to 18-ounce loaf rustic white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes, about 10 cups
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus an additional 2 tablespoons melted
1 pound yellow onions, diced
4 large stalks celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage leaves
Leaves from 4 stalks thyme
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups turkey, chicken, or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 225°F. Spread the bread cubes on a large baking sheet and bake for 90 minutes or until quite crisp, stirring every half hour.
Heat the butter in a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or the vegetables are very soft. Stir in the sage and thyme and cook for 2 more minutes, then turn off the heat.
Beat the eggs with the broth, salt, and a generous quantity of fresh black pepper. In a large bowl, fold together the toasted bread cubes with the cooked onions and celery, then stir in the egg-broth mixture.
Spread in a lightly greased 3-quart baking dish and drizzle with the additional 2 tablespoons melted butter.
At this point the dressing can be covered with foil and refrigerated overnight or up to 24 hours.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 375°F. Bake covered for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 more minutes or until top is lightly browned. If you are baking the dressing directly from the refrigerator, expect to add 10 extra minutes baking time. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.