Sunday, November 16, 2014

The "Correct" Thanksgiving Sausage Stuffing Recipe

In my family, Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without Grandma's sausage stuffing. Technically, we prepare it as "dressing", but we always call it "stuffing". It can be stuffed in the bird, but I have a big family and the amount of stuffing that we consume on Thanksgiving could never fit into a bird. And then, of course, there's that salmonella thing. I have a sister who stuffs her bird when she's preparing it for her family unit, but I'm on the side of stuffing the casserole dish instead.

Woe to the person who attempts to prepare a different type of stuffing/dressing recipe for my family's Thanksgiving gatherings. A sister-in-law attempted it once. I wasn't around for it that year, but I heard all about it – it was that big of a controversy. To this day, when I invite any of my family to Thanksgiving at our house, I close the invitation with a promise that I will make the stuffing the "correct way", just to set their minds at ease.

My mother told me that she got this recipe from my father's mother. It's one of those recipes that I learned all the ingredients for, but the measurements were never actually written down until I documented it last year. So I can't guarantee that the proportions are exactly the way Grandma made it, but this is how I do it....You can vary the type of bread used – either white or sourdough. I'm sure Grandma used white bread (she lived in Wisconsin), but since I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, sourdough became the bread of choice.

In Texas, of course, cornbread stuffing is the most popular. At our local Brookshires, I couldn't even find sourdough bread, much less any stuffing croutons for making a white-bread-based stuffing (in California, I could find bags of plain croutons just for stuffing, which made life easier). So I had to improvise by making the croutons myself using ordinary white bread at first – then I discovered Market Street carried sourdough bread, so now I use that.

Making the Croutons

If you don't want to bake your own croutons, you can use something like Orowheat's Premium Herb Seasoned Stuffing as a shortcut. Just make sure you're using white bread and not cornbread. If you use seasoned croutons, omit the herbs from the recipe later.

You can make these a day or two ahead of time – just let them cool completely before putting them in a plastic bag, and store them in your pantry.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. A convection oven works best for this, so if you have a convection setting on your oven, use it. 

1 1/4 loaves Pepperidge Farm "Farmhouse Sourdough Bread"(it's presliced). If you have some extra wheat bread handy, you can substitute some of the sourdough for it. I have siblings who save the ends of their wheat bread for that purpose – they say it helps "balance" the flavors.

Cut the slices into 16 cubes as shown below.

Arrange the cubes on baking sheets so they make a single layer. Spray them with cooking spray to lightly coat them (I like olive oil cooking spray), tossing them so that both sides are sprayed. The purpose of the oil is to aid in the browning, not make them greasy, so don't overdo it.

Bake the croutons for 12 minutes, or until crisp and light-brown. You'll end up rotating baking sheets of croutons in assembly line fashion in and out of the oven, as this makes a lot of croutons.

In the end you will end up with 1 1/2 lbs. of croutons, or about enough to fill up one of the bags that your bread came in.

Preparing the Sausage and Veggies

You can substitute your favorite sausage – the regular and sage-seasoned varieties of Jimmy Dean sausage are also good in this – but I find that the reduced fat version works well because you don't have to strain any fat off your sausage after you cook it. The little bit of fat it does create will just be absorbed by the bread and make it extra yummy without being greasy.

In a large skillet, break apart and cook a 12 ounce package of Jimmy Dean Reduced Fat Premium Pork Sausage just until no pink remains.

Add one cup yellow onion, chopped, and one cup of celery, chopped. Cook for another couple of minutes, until the onion just turns transparent (don't overcook it)

Assembling the Stuffing

Put your croutons into a large casserole dish (you'll want to use a dish that has a glass cover). Then put in your sausage and vegetable mixture and stir with the biggest spoon you have. Add your favorite aromatic herbs: I like to add 2 teaspoons of rubbed sage; one of my sisters adds sage plus 1-2 teaspoons of thyme leaves, and sometimes a little rosemary.

Gradually add a 32 ounce carton of Pacific Organic Free Range Low Sodium Chicken Broth (any brand will do, just make it low sodium). You'll want to add about a half cup or so of the broth, let it soak in, stir, and repeat. It takes a bit of time for the broth to get completely absorbed by the croutons; it will continue to soften the croutons over time even without adding more. So don't worry if it seems like the croutons are hard--just be patient.

Optional: Add 2 eggs, beaten, or a 1/2 cup of Egg Beaters. My mom swears that adding eggs makes for a lighter texture in the stuffing. Personally, I tend to skip this step because I can't really tell the difference. If you have any concerns about undercooked egg in your stuffing, you can too. I would also recommend skipping the eggs if you make your stuffing ahead of time.

Once everything is well combined, smooth out the top of the stuffing in your dish. At this point, if you are making the stuffing ahead of time, you can cover it and put it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it.

Cooking

Cover the casserole and put the stuffing into the same oven as your turkey, when your turkey has about an hour to go. If you need to use a separate oven, put it into a preheated 325 degree oven and bake for 1 hour. If you prepared the stuffing ahead of time and refrigerated it, add another 30 minutes to the cooking time. 

If you want the top to be extra "crusty" remove the cover during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

If you are concerned about doneness, you can put it in 2 hours ahead of time until it is heated through to your satisfaction, and then just keep it warm in a 250 degree oven until you are ready. Just make sure you keep it covered while staying warm, to prevent it from drying out too much.

Enjoy!