This is the last installment of our “My Favorite Thanksgiving Sides” series for this holiday season. You can catch up on the previous entries here:
A few common questions regarding stuffing:
1) Can you call it Thanksgiving dinner without serving stuffing?
In my humble opinion, “no”
2) Should I stuff the bird (this results in “stuffing”) or not (this results “dressing”)?
My personal advice and Alton Brown‘s is to not stuff the bird. I’ve done it both ways and my feeling is that you’ve got enough going on in the kitchen; save yourself some trouble and show off another one of your favorite baking dishes. If you’re worried about flavor, just make some rich and tasty gravy
3) What kind of stuffing should I make?
There are so many options – carnivorous, vegetarian, low-carb, gluten-free. Choose one that suits your guests needs and will make them stuffed and happy
4) What’s your favorite stuffing?
C’mon, that’s like asking someone who their favorite child is. You probably have one but you don’t want to admit it. I’ve made many types of stuffing and have enjoyed all of them. As a kid getting initiated in Thanksgiving dinner, I made Stove Top out of a box and heated up jarred gravy. I couldn’t imagine anything tastier and was incredibly proud of my early efforts. In my senior year of college, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my 50 housemates and decided it was time to graduate out of Stove Top to Wonder Bread. I used the classic ingredients: butter, carrots, celery, onion, and chicken broth. I couldn’t imagine anything tastier and was incredibly proud of myself for making my first stuffing “from scratch.” After college, I tried everything the late Gourmet magazinetold me to. Again, all very tasty stuffings / dressings.
But the question was my favorite, and well, I’ve been around the block with stuffing. If I had to pick one that I come back to time and time again, it’s my fennel, sausage, and cornbread stuffing. I love the sweetness of the cornbread and fennel and the saltiness of the sausage together. Throw in some toasted pine nuts, and you have yourself something really special. You might even think, “I couldn’t imagine anything tastier.”
Really, you can’t go wrong with whatever you pick, so choose a stuffing that’s right for your Thanksgiving menu, your tastes, and your cooking abilities. Straight out of a box, dressed-up stove-top, no bread at all . . . lathered in cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and gravy, you’ll always feel like it’s the tastiest thing you’ve ever had
- Cornbread mix (and according ingredients) – ~1 lb. (I used 2 boxes of Jiffy’s)
- Olive oil – 2 tbs.
- Pine nuts – ¼ cup
- Fennel bulb – 2
- Onion, small – 1
- Sage – 4 leaves
- Sausage (any type) – 1 lb. (I used chicken apple)
- Canola / vegetable oil – ½ tbs.
- Butter – 4 tbs. + some
- Eggs – 3
- Vegetable broth / chicken stock – 2 cups
- Cornbread – Prepare cornbread according to package instructions. Let cool and cut into ½” cubes. You can leave the bread out, as slightly staler bread makes better stuffing
- Cornbread cubes – Toss in oil and toast in oven at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes to further dry bread out
- Pine nuts – Toast in the oven on a separate baking sheet with cornbread for the last 8 to 10 minutes
- Fennel / Onion – Dice
- Sausage – Remove from casings
- Sage – Slice thinly
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add canola / vegetable oil and then sausage. Break up sausage with a wooden spoon and cook until browned. Remove from pan and set aside. If there’s a lot of oil, drain oil from sausage
- Return pan to medium-high heat and add butter. Add diced fennel, onion, chopped sage leaves, and a pinch of kosher salt to melted butter. Saute until softened, ~5 minutes. Whisk eggs while vegetables cook
- Toss all ingredients together: corn bread, pine nuts, sausage, vegetables, whisked eggs, and broth / stock
- Butter a 9×13 baking dish and spread stuffing into pan (you can use the cast iron skillet too!). Bake for 30 minutes. You can do this ahead of time and reheat for serving
- If you have just 1 or 2 vegetarians, you can use vegetable broth, toss everything but sausage together, and put part of that mixture in a smaller dish for the vegetarians and toss sausage in the remainder for the carnivores. You can see my ramekin of vegetarian stuffing in the background of this image:
- You probably have a lot of herbs on hand for Thanksgiving dinner. Feel free to toss any of them into this stuffing
- If you’re too lazy to take the extra step of making the cornbread, use normal Wonder bread or even pre-made croutons and then follow the rest of the recipe. Make your Thanksgiving menu work for you!