I remember waking up Thanksgiving mornings to the house already smelling magically like Thanksgiving. We generally ate our feast in the mid-afternoon, and my mom would begin turkey preparations bright and early, before her children were awake. She always filled her bird with the stuffing so it needed to be made before the turkey went in the oven. The scent of herbs and aromatics filled the house. Often I slept in late enough that the turkey itself was already in the oven roasting, adding its scent to the equation.
One morning when I was perhaps thirteen or fourteen, I woke up early enough that my mom taught me how to make stuffing. I always firmly believed her stuffing was better than anybody else’s. It thrilled me to learn her recipe, and I made it exactly like her for years. My method adapted over time with my cooking experience, starting with not putting my stuffing in the turkey. I also added one delicious ingredient, duck fat, but in my heart it is still “the way Mom taught me.” Most importantly it has sausage and apples. As a kid nobody I knew made it quite like her, but of course now I’m aware that they’re pretty common ingredients.
I totally understand if you’re Team In-the-bird. When I was younger, stuffing from the bird was my favorite too. It soaks up the delicious juices and fat from the turkey. In this recipe I try to mimic the glory with homemade stock and duck fat. Even if you are adamant that stuffing should go in the turkey, you may one day find yourself in a situation when you need the stuffing to be on the side, and you will still want flavorful stuffing. (You’re uncle is frying the turkey or your gluten free friend is coming over, for example.) I’ve listed variable amounts for the stock and fat because how much you will need depends on the density and dryness of the bread you’re working with, the richness of your stock, and the texture you are looking for. Taste as you add to get the results you want.
- 1 ½ # loaf of crusty bread (It yields about 12 cups of bread cubes.)
- ½ # pork sage sausage (If you want to use a whole pound, go ahead!)
- 1 stick of unsalted butter, divided
- 1 large yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 2 apples, cores removed and diced (I prefer Honeycrisps or Fujis)
- ½ cup chopped rosemary, sage and thyme
- ½ heaping cup to 1 cup of duck fat or schmalz
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- 4 thinly sliced green onions, optional
- 2-3 cups chicken stock or turkey stock, warmed so not congealed
- Kosher salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- Prepare bread 3 days before you need your stuffing. If you’re making a frozen turkey, you can generally prep your bread the same day you thaw your bird. Cut bread into ½ to ¾ in cubes. Don’t fret about perfection. Think rustic. Throw them in a large bowl, cover with a towel, and toss occasionally over the three days. The result is bread cubes that are stale, but they won’t all be rock hard.
- The day you are ready to make the stuffing, butter a large 9x12in 5casserole dish with about 2 T of butter.
- Brown the sausage over medium heat in a wide, heavy bottom pan. A large skillet will work well. Add the remaining butter and melt. If you’re sausage is very fatty, you can add the butter later.
- Add the onion, celery, apples, and rosemary sage and thyme. Sprinkle with kosher salt and add a good grind of black pepper. Stir occasionally to sweat the vegetables. The onions should be translucent.
- Add the duck fat and melt. Stir in parsley and green onions.
- In a large bowl, toss the stuffing mixture with 2 cups of chicken stock. Season again with salt and pepper. Check for seasoning and texture. I like my stuffing moist, but not soggy, and rich, but not greasy. If it seems too dry to you, add more stock and/or more duck fat.
- About an hour before you are ready to serve the stuffing, warm through in a 350 degree oven, uncovered. Check after 20 minutes. It will take longer if it has been refrigerated. Broil for a few minutes to toast the top. Those crunchy bits are the best. For Thanksgiving timing purposes, you can do this when you pull out your turkey to rest, and then keep warm in a low oven.
- The stuffing can be made up through step five early the day you are serving. I prefer to add my stock right before I put it in the oven.
- For your stock, obviously homemade is best. Incorporate the fat too.
- I am content with the ½ heaping cup of duck fat, but if your stock is lean, you will need more.
- I stuff my turkey with ingredients that I put in my stuffing. Apples, onion, celery, and plenty of herbs!