I love Thanksgiving - turkey with all the fixings. And one of my favorite holiday sides is the stuffing. After years of tweaking; I've come up with this, my very favorite cornbread stuffing - savory, filled with onions, celery, apples, cranberries, country sausage - it's a meal unto itself. "
The Making of - My Favorite Cornbread Dressing
Thanksgiving IS one of my favorite holidays of the year. First off, it's right around my husband's birthday - that's always a reason to celebrate. Second, it's all about family. No gifts needed. Just time to spend together enjoying each other.
Throughout the years, I have had many a stuffing. In my childhood, my Swiss grandparents made an in-bird stuffing that was rice, mixed with sausage, seasonings, along with onion and celery. It was really good and for years I thought it was the ONLY kind of stuffing there was.
Then I was introduced to in-bird bread stuffing. It took me a while to wrap my head around cubes of soggy bread coming out of the bird. The texture just didn't seem right. And the early versions I had consisted of bread, onion, celery, chicken stock with a bit of dried thyme thrown in.
Not really a flavor "bomb".
As time marched forward, I was offered the choice of stuffing prepared in-bird or outside of the bird in a casserole dish.
I preferred the casserole.
But there was still something off.
It was when I started cooking my own Thanksgiving meals for the family that I realized - I didn't like the cubes.
And even when my sister-in-law went to all the work of making homemade cornbread and cubing it up and drying it for days and days...I still didn't like the cubes.
It probably has something to do with that whole rice texture that began with my grandmother's version.
As I developed this recipe, I thought of all the components I loved from my grandmother's version. Mostly the use of fresh herbs, and of course, the country sausage. The country sausage gives the dressing a unique rich rustic flavor. And of course, I love love love not only the flavor of but the smell of onions and celery being slowly sautéed in butter - it's such a comforting smell.
It screams "Bloody Mary TIME"!
Or perhaps Mimosa?
Fresh or Boxed?
When it comes to the cornbread part of the program - well, you could make your own and dry it, and then crush it. But I really like the flavor and texture of boxed stuffing mix - Pepperidge Farm is my preference for a prepared box stuffing, although you could use any brand. I think I like it because it's already partially seasoned and it's perfectly dry to start.
If you do make your own cornbread, do not make a sweet cornbread. Omit all sugar from the recipe. And then make sure you dry it thoroughly. You don't want to start with moist bread or you will end up with mush once you're done with the recipe.
And we're not going for mush here. We are going for stuffing.
You can, of course, make this recipe with either cubes or crushed stuffing mix. As I said, I prefer the texture/feel of the crushed, so when I make my Favorite Cornbread Stuffing, I always get the style that is broken up. And if I can only get cubes...out comes my rolling pin as I crush the heck out of them...until they are all broken up.
Fresh and Dried Fruits
What is more perfect with onions, celery, and country pork sausage than fresh apples? Not much in my opinion. Any firm apple will work - red will add a bit of sweetness, while green would be a bit more tart.
I have tried both sautéing the apples with the onion and celery before adding them to the stuffing mix and adding them uncooked. I find that uncooked keeps the apple's texture and flavor more intact, so don't bother pre-cooking them. Just add them raw.
As time went on, I thought about adding dried fruit because I often make this stuffing as a side for my Perfect Simple Roast Chicken. Since I'm not generally serving cranberries with that, I started adding dried cranberry to the stuffing. The cranberry adds a nice sweet/tart flavor that I really enjoyed. I've also added dried tart cherries. Both work great.
It's just one more level of flavor.
To Egg or Not to Egg
OK...why you might ask.
I'll tell you why. I've tried recipes with the added egg, and it's amazing how different the texture of the stuffing changes. Some recipes have you adding as many as 5 eggs! That turns stuffing into pudding IMHO.
If I want bread pudding - I'll make bread pudding.
The claim is it adds moistness. And it does. But it also gives it a custard-like texture. So I simply add enough chicken stock to get the moistness I want.
Then I have cornbread stuffing - not cornbread pudding.
Stuffing vs Dressing
Just so we are clear, what I am making is not technically stuffing. It's technically dressing.
What's the difference?
Stuffing is made inside the bird.
A dressing is made outside of the bird.
This is dressing made outside of the bird.
But you could certainly stuff it inside the bird.
If you so desire.
The reasons I prefer dressing to stuffing are simple.
- Most illnesses you read about after turkey dinners with stuffed birds is, the stuffing didn't get done to proper temperatures, so raw turkey juice is not at safe levels. Take the dressing out of the bird = problem solved.
- Dressing cooked inside the bird gets mushy. I love serving mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes as one of my other sides. So I have a soft, mushy component to my meal - I don't need another one. Dressing cooked outside of the bird (and without eggs) has a different mouthfeel.
- The turkey will cook faster without the stuffing inside. Plus you can cook it at a higher temperature. Depending on the size of your turkey, that could be the difference of 2 - 3 HOURS.
- You can crisp it up. You can't get any kind of crisp stuffing inside the moist environment of the bird. But you can in the oven! We like a little toasty edge to our stuffing, so I cook it nearer the bottom of the oven, and then, by removing the foil for 15 or 20 minutes at the end, the top gets just a little toast too. If you prefer no crunchiness, then cook in the middle of the oven, and leave the foil on for the full 45 minutes.
But of course, it's all up to you. The cook.
My Favorite Cornbread Stuffing
Wine Recommendation: Of course, with stuffing, you generally have a protein, such as turkey or chicken. And while you might think, white meat, white wine, this stuffing pairs beautifully with a Cal-Italian style Zinfandel or even a dry Rose.
Favorite Cornbread Stuffing
- ½ stick ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 box 14 ounces herb-seasoned stuffing (I like Pepperidge Farms)
- ½ pound bulk country-style pork sausage
- 1 red or green apple cored and diced (leave the skin on)
- ½ cup or more dried cranberries, or halved tart dried cherries
- ½ cup freshly chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons fresh minced sage*
- 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme*
- *You could use 1 teaspoon dried thyme and 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning in place of the fresh sage and thyme
- 2 ½ cups homemade or reduced-sodium chicken stock or as needed
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Cooking spray or additional butter or oil for the pan
- 1 cup diced sautéed mushrooms
- ½ cup toasted chopped walnuts
- Omit apple and add diced fresh pear
- Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a skillet, add the onions and celery; along with a pinch of salt; cook until tender (about 5 - 7 minutes). Empty the contents of the stuffing mix into a large bowl; add the cooked onions and celery along with the diced apple, cranberries, parsley, sage, and thyme or dried seasonings. Toss well.
- In the same skillet add the pork sausage and cook, breaking it up into small pieces. Drain well and add to the bowl. Toss.
- Add the chicken stock, a little at a time, stirring until you have the moistness you desire. (Use less for a dryer stuffing, more for a moister stuffing.) Taste, add salt and pepper as needed along with additional seasonings to taste.
- Spray, or butter, the bottom of a casserole dish. Spoon the dressing into the dish and then cover with foil. Place in the middle of a preheated 350°F oven. Cook for 30 minutes; uncover and cook for 15 minutes more to get a bit of a crust. Serve.
- LindySez: You can make this in advance. Keep covered in the refrigerator. Remove about ½ hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature. If not at room temperature, cook covered an additional 15 minutes.