The Perfect Thanksgiving Stuffing
Here’s my idea for the perfect Thanksgiving stuffing, but first a quick story.
As expats living in London, there are really only two days of the year when I suffer from quite deep homesickness. One is the Fourth of July, for obvious reasons. The children are all in school, believe it or not, and in any case it would seem in bad taste to go around crowing with delight about our independence from our very friends and neighbors. “Sorry to rob you of your very lucrative colonies in 1776, but have a sparkler!”
The other day I miss is Thanksgiving. Some expatriate families have given up the ghost and just wait for Christmas to have their laden celebratory tables. Others wait until the Saturday or Sunday after to roast their turkeys. The benefit of waiting is that schoolchildren are home, working spouses are home, and the feast can take place in the short grey afternoon, as it always did in our American childhoods. Until this year, I have always been doggedly insistent that we have Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving, even though it meant a dinner experience rather than the traditional mid-afternoon meal.
This year, our daughter is performing in the school musical on the “real” Thanksgiving, so we are succumbing to the Saturday plan. Nineteen of us will gather around two tables, the guest list reflecting pretty accurately our lives: a bell-ringing friend of mine, an architect friend of John’s and his two babies, friends visiting from California and in need of Thanksgiving cheer, and of course many school friends of Avery’s, including a boy from the rowing team. This last guest, I have been warned from several sources, will happily eat as much as the rest of us combined. An extra turkey breast and a really whopping ham have been planned, as well as no fewer than three potato dishes–Dauphinoise, cheesey, and mashed. Caramelized carrots, cheesey spinach, lemony green beans.
But the dish I am counting on to feed us all, including Mr. Appetite, is my special Thanksgiving (and Christmas) stuffing. I call it this even though I do not stuff it into the turkey. Probably I should call it “dressing.” Whatever its moniker, it is one of my most favorite things to eat, because its list of ingredients is a sort of “what is the most delicious list of things you can think of” list. The recipe itself was inspired by the late, great food writer Laurie Colwin, who said in her marvelous Home Cooking that while she herself had never before liked stuffing, a recipe calling for “butter, cream, sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms, celery, garlic, fresh sage and the torn-out insides of two loaves of Italian bread,” could not be bad.
In fact it is the loveliest combination of flavors in the world, and it will be even better the next day. If the rower leaves any behind, that is.
serves at least 14
2 large loaves Italian bread, insides torn into bite-sized pieces
4 tbsps butter
1 head celery, minced
8 cloves garlic, minced
12 chestnut or baby Portobello mushrooms, minced
2 medium white onions, minced
12 leaves fresh sage, minced
1 lb sweet Italian sausagemeat
2 cups light cream
1-2 cups chicken stock
sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
The day before Thanksgiving, tear up the bread (deciding as you go whether any of the crusts are soft enough to use in the stuffing; if not, save for breadcrumbs). Leave the bread in a large, shallow baking dish, uncovered overnight. Fluff it occasionally as you walk by. It’s important to dry the bread a bit.
To make the stuffing, melt the butter in a large saucepan and sweat the celery, garlic, mushrooms, onions and sage until soft. Throw this mixture onto the bread in its baking dish.
In the residual fat from the vegetables, sauté the Italian sausage meat. If you cannot buy in bulk, simply remove the sausages from their casings and discard the casings. Break up the sausage as it cooks so you have small bites. Throw the sausage onto the bread and vegetables. Pour over the cream and begin mixing with your hands.
Add chicken stock just until the stuffing reaches the wetness consistency you like. Season to taste and then bind it all together with the beaten egg. Bake at 400F for about an hour, or until lightly browned on top.
Does this recipe sound like your perfect Thanksgiving stuffing? Tell us about your stuffing recipe.
Photo credit: Avery Curran
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