Turkey gets the magazine covers and the big platters, but let's be real — stuffing is the star of the show, at least on my table. And when I say stuffing, I mean the most classic, herby, moist, and fragrant bread stuffing — just like what you get out of the box, but even better.
Here's how to make that stuffing you crave, the one that is so indelibly connected with Thanksgiving, any time you like. It's remarkably simple, and oh so good.
Stuffing vs. Dressing
Now, some nomenclature. Stuffing is what I call the bready-casserole-goodness that soaks up gravy and sits besides the turkey. Technically, however, this is just bread dressing. It's only stuffing if it's baked inside the turkey, which I almost never do.
I don't stuff my turkey partly because there are very real health hazards and a need to make sure that stuffing is completely cooked. It also makes the turkey cook more slowly.
But I don't let the name trip me up; stuffing this is, to me, and it will always remain so. If it confuses you, though, then dressing it is.
What Makes This the Very Best?
People get serious about their stuffing. Oysters? Sausage? Cornbread? Keep 'em off my table. But I know that others feel differently. However, I would argue that for a majority of Americans (sweeping generalizations, love them) this taste of herbs and onion, so similar to classic Stove Top from a box, is the taste that is quintessentially Thanksgiving.
We set out to recreate that taste in a simple, from-scratch recipe that can be prepped ahead and baked while the turkey finishes.
The alchemy of this recipe is really wonderful — when you're mixing dried bread, herbs, and butter, it doesn't seem possible that all of it will come together in that silky, homestyle stuffing you crave. But pour in a good measure of turkey broth and butter, and suddenly this is a moist and fluffy Thanksgiving classic.
The Key to Great Homemade Stuffing: The Broth
Now, I can't give you this recipe without one big caveat, and that is broth. A simple stuffing or bread dressing like this one has a bare handful of ingredients, so they really have to count. And the single biggest boost you can give your homemade stuffing is turkey broth.
Sure, boxed chicken or vegetable broth will do just fine, but the best stuffing is made with rich, savory, homemade turkey broth — the richer, the better. That flavor is what you want.
How To Make Classic Sage Stuffing for Thanksgiving
Serves 6 to 8
What You Need
(18-ounce, 8-inch round) loaf rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups)
unsalted butter divided
large yellow onions, about 1 pound diced
large stalks celery, diced
finely chopped fresh sage leaves
Leaves from 4 stalks fresh thyme
large eggs, beaten
turkey, chicken, or vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper
Large baking sheet
3-quart baking dish
Dry the bread: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 225°F. Spread the bread cubes on a large baking sheet in an even layer and bake until quite crisp, stirring every half hour, about 90 minutes total. After removing the bread from the oven, turn up the oven temperature to 375°F.
Cook, the onion, celery, and garlic until tender: Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large 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.
Add the herbs: Stir in the sage and thyme and cook for 2 more minutes, then turn off the heat.
Mix the toasted bread cubes with the onion mixture: In a large bowl, fold together the toasted bread cubes with the cooked onions and celery.
Beat the eggs and broth, and mix in: Beat the eggs in a medium bowl with the broth, salt, and a generous quantity of fresh black pepper. Pour in the bowl and stir into the bread.
Put into baking dish and top with more butter: Spread in a lightly greased 3-quart baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and drizzle over the top.
Cover and bake: Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake covered for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the top is golden-brown.
Rest before serving: Cool the dressing for 10 minutes before serving.
Make ahead: The dressing can be completely assembled and refrigerated overnight or up to 24 hours. When ready to bake, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat 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.