With cornbread, country-style bread, sausage, chestnuts, and a touch of apple cider, this Sausage and Chestnut Stuffing is one of my favorite holiday sides.
Last year, when I started Striped Spatula, I confessed my lukewarm feelings toward holiday turkeys and adoration for all things side dishes. Nothing’s changed in the last year. Don’t get me wrong: I love a beautifully-roasted turkey. But, my heart still belongs to the sides, and this Thanksgiving, I’m all about the stuffing. Sausage and Chestnut Stuffing is one of my favorite holiday trimmings. With two types of bread (cornbread and country white), sausage, chestnuts, fresh herbs, and a touch of sweetness from apple cider, it takes a great deal of restraint to not make a meal out of the stuffing alone. (Especially the crispy edges, I’m just going to go ahead and call “dibs” on those now.)
Let’s get the technical (and, dare I say controversial) part of this post out of the way: do we rightly call this recipe, baked in a gratin dish, stuffing or dressing? I’ve always termed most savory bread-based sides “stuffing” regardless of whether they’re cooked in the bird or in a pan alongside. It’s a regional thing, I’ve heard. Growing up in New Jersey, neither my family nor any of my friends’ families, ever called it anything but stuffing. When I went to college in Virginia, I started hearing all of my friends who grew up in the South talking about how they couldn’t wait to have their mothers’ dressing over Thanksgiving break. Until I caught on, I thought that Southern mothers were really into making salads with mind-blowing homemade dressings. I’ve since come to learn that, technically-speaking, if it’s cooked in the bird, it’s stuffing. If it’s cooked in a separate baking dish, it’s dressing. I acknowledge this, but have a feeling that “bird” or “pan”, I’ll probably always call it stuffing. Old habits die hard!
This recipe is another that can be largely prepped in advance of the big day, cutting down on your “to-do” list when you’re getting your turkey ready for the oven. I often chop the vegetables, chestnuts, and herbs a day or two in advance and store them in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator. I also like to cube and toast the bread the night before (luckily, day-old bread is a plus here). On Thanksgiving day, it’s easy to just cook up the sausage, sauté the onion and celery, toss everything together, and bake. Really, with umpteen other dishes to prepare, guests to entertain, and a roasting turkey to babysit, who has time to stand over a cutting board chopping onions?
I love that this recipe utilizes both cornbread and country-style white bread. They play well together. The cornbread lends a touch of sweetness and a nice texture to the finished dish, while the country-style bread gives it substance. The Williams-Sonoma recipe that inspired mine called for a much higher cornbread to white bread ratio, but I found this made the stuffing a little too gritty and loose for my tastes. I like to utilize a 1:1 ratio for the best of both worlds. I also add beaten eggs to bind the stuffing and give it a light, fluffy-texture.
About those crispy edges: if you want to maximize the crispiness on each of your guests’ plates (and cut down on baking time), this recipe translates beautifully into “stuffing muffins.” You’ll get about fifteen “muffins,” generously-mounded into standard muffin pans. They’re a cute, convenient alternative if you’re looking for something a little different to present on your holiday table. (Instructions follow below, and photos are in my Flickr feed.) Whether you’re serving “stuffing” or “dressing”, I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!
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Sausage and Chestnut Stuffing
Inspired by "Sausage, Corn Bread, and Chestnut Dressing," Williams-Sonoma
- 1 pound day-old cornbread loaf*
- 1 pound day-old country-style white bread loaf, crusts removed
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup finely-chopped celery (about 1 large stalk)
- 1 cup finely-chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium)
- 3 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs (such as fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage)
- 1 cup roasted or steamed chestnuts, shelled and quartered**
- 2 cups chicken stock, plus additional for basting, if needed
- 1 cup sweet apple cider
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cut cornbread and country-style bread into 1/2 to 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about six cups of each. Spread in an even layer on two baking sheets and bake until lightly toasted and dry throughout, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart gratin pan and set aside. Place sausage in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and cook, breaking sausage up with a wooden spatula or spoon, until cooked through. Remove from pan and transfer to a large bowl. Add olive oil to pan and sauté chopped celery and onion until softened, about 5-8 minutes. Season with 1/2-teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Add sautéed celery and onion, herbs, and chestnuts to sausage. Stir to combine. Add toasted bread cubes, chicken stock, and apple cider, folding gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.*** Gently fold in beaten eggs.
Transfer stuffing mixture to prepared gratin pan. Bake, covered with foil for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking 20-25 minutes, until stuffing registers 165 degrees F in the center and is lightly browned and crisp on top.****
To make single-serve "Stuffing Muffins"
Butter standard muffin tins (you'll need about 15 wells), including bottoms, sides, and top rims. Use an ice cream scoop to generously mound stuffing into each well, pressing gently to compact. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes, until centers reach 165 degrees F and stuffing is crisp on the top. Remove from oven and run a butter knife around the sides of each cup to loosen. Let stand 5 minutes and use a fork to help ease muffins out of wells and onto a serving platter.
*Either your favorite homemade or store-bought cornbread is fine to use here. The loaves I use generally weigh about a pound and are baked in an 8-inch square pan.
**I love to roast chestnuts at home (such a wonderful aroma!) but almost always use imported jarred chestnuts (such as Clement Faugier or Minerve) when I'm not going to enjoy them on their own and am mixing them into recipes such as stuffing. Convenient and delicious.
***The amount of salt and pepper needed will depend not only on your personal tastes, but on the saltiness of your stock and amount of spice in your store's brand of Italian sausage. For safety purposes, finish seasoning before raw eggs are added and avoid re-tasting until the stuffing is fully cooked.
****Since every oven is different, you'll want to keep an eye on the stuffing after it's uncovered to make sure it's not drying out or becoming too crisp. If it looks like it's becoming dry before it reaches the proper internal temperature, just pour a few additional tablespoons of reserved stock over the top to lightly moisten.