My Thanksgiving assignment this year is “Bring the stuffing,” a contribution that provokes memories of my father and performance anxiety. Every Thanksgiving, Daddy made the stuffing (we call it dressing in Maryland). He used Grandma Alice’s recipe, but the ingredients never seemed as important as how he sliced the bread. First, he tucked a dish towel in his belt as a makeshift apron, stacked the bread, trimmed off the crusts and chopped each stack into precise squares that looked like sugar cubes. Next he spread the bread on cookies sheets and stashed it in an unheated oven to dry out overnight.
The next morning, our kitchen smelled like warm yeast, and I loved how the turkey would transform such a simple ingredient into the best dish on the table. I guess that’s one reason it was named Wonder Bread.
“You have to keep the oven door open a little or the bread doesn’t dry right,” my mom explained the other day, running through – yet again – the recipe’s additional ingredients: butter, celery, onion, shallot, salt and pepper.
I’ve heard all this before and over the years I’ve tried to recreate Daddy’s dressing with little luck. Thinking of all my failures, I had a yahoo moment: Our family recipe only works when stuffed inside the turkey. It simply doesn’t translate to a casserole.
The realization sent me to the internet for a new dressing recipe. After much searching I settled on this recipe from the New York Times: Sausage Stuffing with Caramelized Onions. I tried a trial run this weekend and was very pleased with the results. We had it with grilled pork chops and apples and a side of green beans.
On Thanksgiving, when I make the casserole again, I'll incorporate the changes I made on my first try: fewer toasted fennel seeds and more fresh sage; two and half cups of chicken stock instead of two; and a little longer cooking time.
Sausage Stuffing with Caramelized Onions
Ingredients • 2 10-ounce packages breakfast sausage (mild and medium) • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and in 1/2-inch dice (1 cup) • 1 carrot in 1/4-inch dice ( 1/2 cup) • 1 celery stalk in 1/4-inch dice ( 1/2 cup) • 1 leek, white part only, washed and finely chopped ( 1/2 cup) • 1 small onion, minced ( 1/2 cup) • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 teaspoons) • Salt and freshly ground black pepper • 1 tablespoons fennel seeds • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten • 2 and a half cups chicken broth • 2 pounds crusty French bread, cubed and dried overnight • 1 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water and drained • 2 tablespoon chopped thyme • 2 tablespoons chopped sage
Preparation • Place sausage in a large skillet over medium heat and cook until browned, turning frequently, 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and transfer sausage to paper-towel-lined plate. Reserve fat in pan. Cool sausage, then chop. Return pan to stove. Add fennel, carrot, celery, leek, onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables are lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place fennel seeds in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, tossing frequently, until fragrant and lightly colored, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. • In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and 2 cups chicken broth together. Add bread and stir until coated evenly. Add sausage, sautéed vegetables, raisins, thyme, sage and fennel seeds. If bread cubes seem dry, add additional chicken broth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn into a 3-quart gratin dish and cover with foil. Bake 30 to 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake until stuffing is brown, about 10 minutes more.
Recipe is adapted from The New York Times.