LUCKY ME. My mother’s cornbread-and-sausage stuffing is the ultimate, the best, the blue-ribbon recipe by which all others will forever be judged. I will never sanction a Thanksgiving without it, but I have been doing some experimenting of my own recently.
The idea of multiple stuffings on the holiday table came to me as I thumbed through the London chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, “Simple,” and came across a recipe with caraway, chestnuts, cranberries and rye bread. On Thanksgiving, each dish must be comfortingly familiar and yet distinctive enough to stand up to its neighbors, with which it will inevitably mingle on the plate. Mr. Ottolenghi’s stuffing does just that. In another recent recipe collection, “The Staub Cookbook,” I found a decidedly grown-up and very rich stuffing made with sausage, figs, brandy and cream. I never imagined a stuffing could have such elegance, but this one proved me shortsighted.
Next I set myself the challenge of matching a smoked turkey. This increasingly popular option calls for a stuffing with some fire of its own. I came up with a version full of chorizo, jalapeño and corn, dusted with smoked paprika and garnished with cilantro, that conjures the American Southwest.
Armed with four terrific recipes, I was left with the eternal question: Stuff the bird or cook the stuffing separately? Stuffing that is stuffed is rarely crisp; its appeal is its soft, molten texture. Stuffing cooked outside, in a covered dish, has more texture, more edges and bite. It’s safer, too: Bringing stuffing inside a turkey to a food-safe 165 degrees without overcooking the bird can be tricky.
And while we’re dealing with age-old Thanksgiving controversies: Though I’m usually an advocate for fresh ingredients, here I’ll stand up for good old Pepperidge Farm Cornbread Stuffing, straight from the box. The cubes maintain their texture far better than fresh cornbread does. Otherwise, go stale, and not just day-old—more like two or three. Five minutes in an oven set to 375 will complete the process. If you’re making your own cornbread, choose a recipe with no added sugar.
The drier the bread, the more broth you can mix in, and this is what gives the stuffing flavor. I mix the broth in bit by bit, using my hands to gauge the texture. When the stuffing feels moist, I stop adding broth. You don’t want it soupy. Check the stuffing halfway through its baking time. If it feels dry, add a bit more broth. If it’s still wet, remove the cover for the last 10-15 minutes of baking.
There are no mistakes here that can’t be easily fixed. Stuffing is as forgiving to cook as it is sure to please.
Caraway, Cranberry and Chestnut Stuffing
For this recipe, start with stale bread, at least 1-2 days old.
TOTAL TIME: 1¼ hours SERVES: 8
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut 1 stale (roughly 8-by-5-inch) loaf rye bread and 1 stale (roughly 8-by-5-inch) loaf sourdough bread into ¾-inch-thick slices and remove crusts. Tear bread into 1-inch cubes (you should have about 7 cups). Spread bread over two baking sheets and bake, tossing halfway through, until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. // In a large skillet, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add 4 teaspoons caraway seeds and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add 5 cloves garlic, minced, 5 cups diced celery, 2 onions, diced, ½ cup dried cranberries, 2 cups chopped ready-cooked and peeled chestnuts, and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring often, until celery is soft and onions are golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, toasted bread and 1-2 cups chicken stock. (If stuffing a bird, you will need 1 cup. If baking stuffing separately, you will need 2.) Melt 1 tablespoon butter and drizzle over stuffing. // Transfer stuffing to a roasting pan or gratin dish. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until stuffing is lightly browned on top, 10 minutes more. Alternatively, add stuffing to cavity of 1 turkey or 2 chickens and roast with bird. Use a thermometer to make sure stuffing reaches 165 degrees before serving. Serve hot.
—Adapted from “Simple” by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press)
Sausage, Fig and Brandy Stuffing
TOTAL TIME: 1 ¼ hours SERVES: 6
Thickly slice 1 pound crusty bread, such as ciabatta or French bread, and remove crusts. Cut sliced bread into 1-inch cubes. Spread over a baking sheet, loosely cover with a clean dish towel, and let sit overnight to dry out. // Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium roasting pan or braising pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Remove 8 ounces sweet or hot Italian sausage from casings and roughly crumble into pan. Cook loose sausage, breaking up into smaller pieces with the back of a spoon and stirring often, until cooked through and browned, 5-7 minutes. Transfer sausage to a large bowl. Add 1 onion, diced, 3 celery stalks, diced, a large pinch of kosher salt and a grind of black pepper to pan and cook over medium-low heat until onion is translucent and celery has softened, about 10 minutes. Deglaze pan with ¼ cup brandy, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add 6 ounces dried figs, halved, and 2 cups chicken stock. Reduce heat to low and cook until figs are rehydrated, 2-3 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves. // Add bread to bowl with sausage. Use a large spoon or spatula to fold in fig-vegetable mixture until well combined. Return bread-sausage mixture to pan. Drizzle ¼ cup heavy cream all over. Top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. // Cover pan with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until stuffing is lightly browned on top, about 10 minutes. Alternatively, add stuffing to cavity of turkey and roast with bird. Use a thermometer to make sure stuffing reaches 165 degrees before serving. Remove from the oven and serve hot.
—Adapted from “The Staub Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press)
Jane Kramer’s Classic Cornbread-and-Sausage Stuffing
TOTAL TIME: 1¼ hours SERVES: 6
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium braising pan, melt 3½ sticks (1¾ cups) unsalted butter over medium-low heat. Add 2 cups chopped onion and 1½ cups chopped celery and cook over low heat until translucent and soft, about 10 minutes. Add 1 red bell pepper, diced, and 1 yellow bell pepper, diced, and cook to soften, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add ⅔ cup loose breakfast sausage to pan and increase heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until meat has browned and formed a bit of a crust, about 10 minutes. Add to bowl with vegetables and toss to combine. // In a smaller skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add 1¼ cups roughly chopped pecans and cook until lightly browned. Add pecans to vegetable-sausage mixture and toss until well-combined. Gently fold in 5 cups cubed stale corn bread or Pepperidge Farm Cornbread Stuffing, 2 cups cubed stale sourdough bread or Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing, ⅓ cup chicken broth, ⅓ cup orange juice, 2 eggs, beaten, 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, 2 tablespoons chopped sage and 2 tablespoons thyme leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and drizzle all over stuffing. // Transfer stuffing to a roasting pan or gratin dish. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Add additional broth if the stuffing seems dry. Remove foil and bake until stuffing is lightly browned on top, about 10 minutes. Alternatively, add stuffing to cavity of turkey and roast with bird. Use a thermometer to make sure stuffing reaches 165 degrees before serving. Remove from oven and serve hot.
—Adapted from Jane Kramer
Chorizo, Corn and Cilantro Stuffing
TOTAL TIME: 1¼ hours SERVES: 10-12
Cut 2 pans stale unsweetened cornbread into 1-inch cubes. (You should have 12 cups.) If cornbread still has some moisture, spread over 2 large baking sheets and toast in oven at 375 degrees until dry, about 5 minutes. Set aside. // Remove casings from 2 pounds raw Mexican chorizo and crumble meat. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook crumbled chorizo, stirring often, until fat begins to render, about 3 minutes. Lower heat and continue to cook chorizo until browned and much of fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. Transfer chorizo to a large bowl. Pour off most of fat from skillet. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and set over low heat. Add 2 onions, diced, and 2 stalks celery, diced, and cook until onion is translucent and celery has softened, about 10 minutes. Add 1 clove garlic, minced, 2 cups corn kernels and 3 red or orange bell peppers, diced, and cook to soften, 3 minutes more. Transfer vegetables to bowl with chorizo. Gently fold in cornbread and add 3 cups chicken broth. Gently stir to combine. // Transfer stuffing to a roasting pan or gratin dish. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until stuffing is lightly browned on top, about 10 minutes. Alternatively, add stuffing to cavity of turkey and roast with bird. Use a thermometer to make sure stuffing reaches 165 degrees before serving. Remove from oven. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika and ⅓ cup cilantro leaves over stuffing. Serve hot.