My favorite holiday to celebrate is Thanksgiving. And why not, it involves sharing and eating a delicious meal. While the crowd may not be as large as in the before times, we can still make the meal special with a twist on classic sausage and herb stuffing.
Ghost of Thanksgiving past
I have a very distinct Thanksgiving memory that was repeated every year. On Wednesday evening, my mother would start the prep work for stuffing. This always involved toasting what seemed like never-ending loaves of white sandwich bread. I can see the red glowing electric coil of the broiler with the oven rack full of bread slices positioned as close as possible for browning. On a cutting board is a tower of toasted bread with a pile of already cut cubes nearby.
There is the dusty aroma of sage in the air and the sound of sizzling sausage in the frying pan. The Thanksgiving mirepoix of diced celery and onions is in a bowl nearby. And of course, when completed, the stuffing is spooned into the cavity of the turkey. It is a dear memory for many reasons. But I remember the anticipation of a delicious meal to come. We all knew it was going to be good!
Kick it up a notch
Now I am the one hopefully creating memories. Paying homage to my mother, I keep the basic recipe. But I can't leave well enough alone. Bread on its own can lack a little flavor. Many people no longer put the stuffing in the turkey so it doesn't benefit from the drippings. It needs a little kick. Like dried cherries! Like caramelized onions! Like bosc pears! And give them a little bath in some brandy.
One of the important decisions regarding a Thanksgiving turkey stuffing is the choice of bread. This recipe needs a sturdy bread so think of a French, or an Italian, or a sourdough loaf. But keep in mind that the flavor of the bread will impact the flavor of the stuffing, particularly sourdough.
Also, use whatever sausage you like. I have used breakfast sausage because the spices are similar to those in the recipe. If you prefer Italian sausage, mild or spicy, go for it.
Once those decisions are made, start your prep. Cut the bread a day or two in advance so it can dry. Caramelize the onions a day or two early to save time.
When you are ready to make the stuffing, caramelize the onions if you haven't already. Brown the sausage and saute the celery together, add the onions, the cherries, and the pears. Don't forget the brandy. It will be absorbed by the hot ingredients in the pan, plumping the dried cherries.
Now combine it all together. This recipe requires 4 cups of chicken stock. A whole box of store-bought is fine. If you have some homemade, by all means, use it. It seems like a lot of stock, but trust me The bread will soak it all up. Make sure to season the stuffing well. It will need a fair amount of salt and especially pepper.
The aromas of Thanksgiving
Stuffing is generally one of the first side dishes I make for Thanksgiving. Once the ingredients hit the pan and the smell of onions in olive oil or the browning of sausage drifts through the air, I am in my mother's kitchen again. To me, that is what is important about Thanksgiving and why a classic sausage and herb stuffing will always be on the menu.
Classic Sausage and Herb Stuffing
- 13 x 10 baking dish
- 1 ½ pound loaf of bread
- 12 ounces pork sausage
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups diced onion 1 ½ large onions
- 1 ½ cups celery 4 stalks
- 2 bosc pears
- ¾ cup dried cherries
- 32 ounces chicken stock
- 4 ounces unsalted butter
- ½ cup brandy
- 1 tablespoon parsley minced
- 1 teaspoon sage minced
- 1 teaspoon thyme minced
- salt and pepper to taste
Dry the bread
- Cut the loaf of bread into 1-inch cubes. Place on a sheet pan. The bread can be left on the counter to dry overnight. You can also place it in a 350° oven for about 20 minutes to dry. Toss the bread after about 10 minutes so that all pieces are exposed to the heat of the oven and put back in the oven for another 10 minutes. You should have approximately 10 cups of dried bread cubes.
- While the bread is drying, over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large saute pan. Once hot, add the diced onion. Season with salt. Saute the onions while occasionally stirring. The onions will start to release some liquid. When the onions start to get very soft and stick to the pan you should see a brown, crusty residue, better known as fond, start to develop on the bottom of the pan.
- Add ¼ cup of the water to the pan and stir to deglaze. The fond will release as you stir the onions. Cook until the water is absorbed and the onions start to stick to the bottom of the pan again. Add another ¼ cup of water and repeat as above. Continue this process until the onions are a deep, rich color of brown.
Finish saute of ingredients
- Take the onions out of the skillet. Add the pork sausage and break into small pieces, cooking for 5-7 minutes. Make sure the sausage browns nicely. This step adds a lot of flavor to the stuffing. While the sausage is cooking, peel and dice the pear.
- Add the celery and stir to incorporate with the sausage. Saute for another 4 minutes. At this point add the onions back to the pan with the dried cherries and the diced pears. Pour the brandy into the pan and give everything a good stir. Deglaze the bottom of the pan, making sure to get all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until the brandy has been reduced. Turn off the heat and add the stick of butter to melt. Make sure everything is combined.
Assemble the stuffing
- You will need a large bowl. Add the bread, the sauteed ingredients, and the herbs. Stir everything together. Add 2 cups of the chicken stock and again stir the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. You will need a fair amount of seasoning, especially pepper. Pour in the last 2 cups of stock. Four cups of stock may seem like a lot. But take my word for it - the bread will absorb it all.
- Coat the baking dish with cooking spray or vegetable oil. Place the stuffing in the pan making sure to not press down and compress the bread. Put in a 350° oven. Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown.