I know both Christmas and New Years are over and it’s time to move on to non-holiday recipes. But I just have to blog this one, mainly because I want to make sure I chronicle the recipe for my future use. Most people are pretty fussy about stuffing. My mom made a stuffing that I just loved but did I ever write down the recipe – well of course not. And try as I may I could never replicate it. So for years I have tried various recipes without much success. I just wasn’t satisfied with what I made. This year it was different. I actually put together a stuffing recipe that I loved and although it is not my mom’s it will be the recipe that I use.
The stuffing is a delightful combination of “the trinity”, which is onions, celery and carrots along with sage breakfast sausage, egg bread and herbs. It was a hit at the dinner table and made great leftovers. The guests at my holiday dinner asked if they could have some to take home. Now that is the mark of a good stuffing recipe. I was so happy to finally create a stuffing that I actually enjoyed and will make again. And I learned a few lessons while making it…
Lesson Learned 1 – Make it the day before: I will share a secret with you. When I first made it and tasted it I thought, ugh… this one’s not going to thrill me. But I made it a day ahead of time and let it sit the refrigerator until the following day. When I tasted it the next day it was unbelievably good. I would not recommend making this stuffing the day of your holiday feast. The flavors in this recipe need time to get fully acquainted. It makes all the difference. And, if you are planning a holiday feast, how good is it to be able to make something in advance so that you are not scrambling around on the big day. With this recipe you put it all together, let it sit over night, and then take it out and let it get to room temperature before baking it in the oven.
I also like this recipe because it bakes at 350. I do not have a double oven and so I planned my holiday dinner with dishes that could all be made at the same temperature, including the turkey. This stuffing recipe made my meal preparation easier. I was able to make it a day ahead and bake it in the oven with the turkey. You can’t beat that!
Lesson Learned 2 – Use a good quality egg bread: Like anything else, the quality of what you put into a recipe will determine the quality of what comes out of it. Most recipes call for just plain white bread. I used a egg bread, called a shepherds bread, and it was divine. But if all you have is white bread, use it. I had some extra white bread that I also cubed and I didn’t think it toasted as well as the egg bread. As a matter of fact, the crust burned on many of the pieces. I wound up picking them out and discarding them.
But please, don’t use the prepackage stuffing cubes you find in bags at the grocery store. I’ve never had any luck with those, and who knows what they put in them to get them to last as long as they do. It takes no time to cut the bread into cubes and toast them in the oven. And the result is so much better.
Lesson Learned 3 – Dice the trinity into equal size pieces: Make sure to finely dice your onions, celery and carrots. If you do, it should take about 8 minutes for them to start to soften and begin to brown. Otherwise it will take a lot longer and chances are by the time your carrots are done your celery and onions will be overcooked.
Lesson Learned 4 – Use fresh herbs in the recipe: I use dried herbs all the time but I think fresh herbs do more to enhance the flavor of this recipe. If you can’t get them, you can use dried. Just remember that with dried herbs you always use less as their flavor is much more concentrated. If you use dried herbs, press the herbs into the palm of your hand with your fingers or slightly crush them with a mortar and pestle to release some of the oil in the herbs before you add them to the recipe. That being said, I still would opt for fresh herbs if at all possible.
Lesson Learned 5 – Cover the stuffing with foil for the first half of the baking process: This is more a matter of taste. I’ve always preferred a softer stuffing while some people prefer a crispy stuffing. I found that by covering the stuffing for the first half hour of baking you get a moist stuffing with just the right amount of crispiness on top. But if you like crispy stuffing, bake it uncovered for the entire hour. Just be sure that if you make this the day before you let the stuffing get to room temperature before baking it off in the oven. I took the stuffing out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for 2 hours before I put it in the oven. The end result was perfect.
This recipe is not difficult to make and only tastes better the more time the ingredients meld. I’m so glad to have finally concocted a stuffing recipe that I like. Keep this one in your file for next year. You won’t be disappointed.
The Best Holiday Stuffing
1 stick of butter, plus a little extra to coat the baking dish
16 cups of good quality egg bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 celery stalks finely diced
2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
1 medium size sweet onion, finely diced
1 pound sage breakfast sausage
2 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
2 – 3 cups unsalted stock (if you can find turkey stock use that. If not substitute chicken stock)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350. Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes and spread out on a baking sheet. Toast for 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally until lightly browned and crisp. Set aside to cool.
Finely dice the celery, carrots and onion. In a large deep skillet melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, pour half of it into a dish and set aside. Add the celery, carrots and onions to the pan and cook over medium high heat until they soften and begin to turn brown. Scrap the vegetables into a bowl and set aside. Add the sausage into the skillet, breaking it up into pieces. Cook until lightly browned and cooked through.
While the sausage is cooking, chop the sage and thyme and set aside. Grease a large 9 x 13 baking dish with butter and set aside. When the sausage is done cooking, add back the vegetables, sage and thyme. Cook for about 1 minute to incorporate the herbs. Add 1 cup of the broth and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Cook until the broth is nearly evaporated, approximately 5 minutes.
Scrape the sausage mixture into a large bowl. Add the toasted bread cubes and remaining stock. Stir until the bread is moistened. Season with salt and pepper. Spread into the prepared baking dish and brush the top with the reserved melted butter.
(Here is where you stop if you are making this ahead. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate. Take the pan out of the refrigerator at least two hours before baking it in the oven. Remove the foil and cover with plastic wrap while it is coming to room temperature).
Cover the stuffing with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the stuffing is heated through and browned. Let the stuffing stand for 10 minutes before serving.