Anyone else here think that the stuffing is the best part of Thanksgiving dinner? I love its mix of textures and flavors — 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 our house, I've tweaked and tested my recipe over the years until finally settling on this one easy method. I find that the key to good stuffing is two fold: 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. For me, 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, though one year I used pumpkin bread for a fantastic sweet-savory twist.
I always bake my stuffing separately from the turkey, opting for more control over the cooking rather than tradition. I also like my 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 your 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 also 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 yourself some time on Thanksgiving, but wait to mix it with the egg or stock until just before cooking.
How do you like your stuffing? Have your own tips or suggestions to share?
How to Make Easy Thanksgiving StuffingServes 8-10
What You Need
1 -1 1/2 pound loaf artisan bread
1 cup walnuts, almonds, pecans, or other nuts, roughly chopped
1 pound sausage, ground beef, ground turkey, or ground chicken
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 tablespoons fresh sage, thyme, or oregano, minced
1 large apples or 1 cup raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2-4 cups chicken or turkey stock
3- or 4-quart casserole dish
1. Toast the Bread and Nuts: Heat the oven to 350°F. 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 ten minutes. Stir the bread cubes and add the chopped nuts. Continue toasting until the bread is completely dry and the walnuts are toasted, another 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
→ Increase the oven temperature to 400°F.
2. Cook the Sausage: Brown the sausage with a sprinkle of salt over medium heat, breaking it up into crumbles as you cook, about 10 minutes (see how in this post). Transfer the cooked sausage to a bowl and drain off all but a few teaspoons of the fat.
3. Cook the Vegetables: 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, another 5 minutes. Add the fruits, if using, and the fresh herbs. Cook until the apples are just starting to soften, another 1-3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Remove the pan from heat.
4. Combine the Stuffing Ingredients: Combine the sausage, vegetables and fruits, bread cubes, and nuts in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together the eggs and pour over the stuffing. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir until all the ingredients are evenly coated.
5. Transfer Stuffing to Baking Dish: 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.
6. Add the Stock: Pour the stock evenly over the surface of the stuffing. If you prefer your stuffing on the dry side, add 2-3 cups of stock; if you like moist stuffing, add 3-4 cups.
7. Cover and Bake: Cover the stuffing with aluminum foil and bake at 400°F for 30 minutes.
8. Uncover and Bake Until Crispy: Uncover the stuffing and continue baking until the top is crispy and golden, another 15-20 minutes. Let cool briefly before serving.
• Make-Ahead Stuffing: This stuffing can be prepared through Step 2 the day ahead. Store the bread cubes at room temperature and refrigerate the sausage filling ingredients separately.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)