By Iron Chef Leftovers
I am not much of a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving – I really don’t care for turkey (have had too many bad ones over the years and that is inexcusable – turkey is easy to cook, of course, I am there if you are going to serve wild turkey, either the bird or the booze), stuffing (especially the store bought stuff) or cranberry jelly. I would much rather have a traditional Thanksgiving of deer, game bird and small furry woodland creatures; pretty much what would have been served at the actual first Thanksgiving. I still get roped into making the traditional meal and my sister-in-law usually requests my stuffing, and lots of it for leftovers. The beauty of this stuffing recipe is that it doesn’t require it to be stuffed into a turkey cavity (the idea is that you butterfly the bird and put it on top of the tray of stuffing so the juices drip down), so you actually don’t need to make a turkey at all to enjoy stuffing (the directions are for if you aren’t cooking a bird with the stuffing). The plus side is that it is easy to make, produces a sufficient quantity (the recipe feeds 12 in theory) and reheats well. I adapted this from the original Cook’s Illustrated recipe.
- 18 cups 1-inch challah or Italian bread cubes (from about 1 1/2 loaves)
- 2 cups turkey stock or chicken stock
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 2 large eggs, beaten lightly
- 1 ½ lbs mild Italian sausage
- 3 cups onions, chopped fine – I prefer sweet onions here
- 1 ½ cups celery, chopped fine
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
- 1 ½ teaspoons table salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- Adjust one oven rack to upper-middle position and second rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Spread bread in even layers on 2 rimmed baking sheets and dry in oven 40 to 50 minutes.
- Place bread in large bowl. Whisk together stock, half-and-half, and eggs in medium bowl; pour over bread and toss gently to coat so bread does not break into smaller pieces. Set aside.
- Heat heavy-bottomed, 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until sausage loses its raw color, 5 to 7 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer sausage to medium bowl. Don’t drain the fat. If there isn’t much in there, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add about half of onions and celery to fat in skillet; sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer onion mixture to bowl with sausage. Return skillet to heat and add 2 tablespoons butter; when foam subsides, add remaining celery and onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in thyme, sage, and garlic; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds; add salt and pepper. Add this mixture along with sausage and onion mixture to bread and stir gently to combine, trying not to break bread into smaller pieces.
- Spray disposable aluminum 12 by 16-inch roasting pan with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dressing to roasting pan and spread in even layer. Cover pan with foil and refrigerate until needed. It should be good in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Remove from the fridge about 45 minutes before cooking.
- In a 400 degree oven, cook the dressing covered for 80 minutes covered, rotating the pan after 40 minutes. The internal temperature should be about 150-155 degrees. Uncover, increase heat to 450 degrees and cook until the surface starts to become golden (keep an eye on it, it can burn), about 10-15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, plate and serve.
The original recipe called for just 12 oz. of sausage, which really didn’t seem like that much. I like the flavors Italian sausage brings to the party, but you could certainly use any sausage that you like. I would highly recommend using turkey stock if you are making this, even if you roast a bird on top of it, I think it has better flavor than chicken stock, plus then you can make turkey gravy to put over it. If you want to make it vegetarian or vegan, it is easy – I have made this using vegan sausage and it works. You just need to use oil in the pan for sautéing the sausage and veggies and replace the meat stock with veggie stock; everything else would be the same. I prefer Italian bread to challah just because it is easier to work with. Oh yeah, the recipe actually scales down pretty easily if you don’t want too much leftover stuffing.