Thanksgiving food, here in the US, isn’t really about the turkey – it’s about the sides. To me, it’s not Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes, gravy and of course, stuffing! Notice the explanation point. I get excited about stuffing, especially since I usually only have it once a year. Anything else can be as gourmet or as basic as you’d like, but the stuffing? It has to be this one. This is my Classic Midwestern Stuffing or Dressing,
My Mom made a good stuffing, but she was prone to experimentation, so when I was talking to my friends, Fred & Betty, and said I didn’t have a “set” recipe for stuffing, and I how I missed the really classic stuffing I had back in the day (before that ill-fated experimentation phase of Mom’s) they offered up their recipe. It is THE one. And it’s everything you can imagine a really good, classic recipe should be.
About Classic Midwestern Stuffing or Dressing:
Fred & Betty’s recipe for Classic Midwestern Stuffing or Dressing is from Betty’s Mom, who was in her 90’s when the recipe was handed off to me. If you think stuffing is an afterthought, something plopped down on the plate only as a nod to tradition, you haven’t had stuffing like this. And by the way, whether pulled from the bird or from a casserole, in the Midwest, we call it stuffing. At least we old people do…
And in the Midwest, we tend to be particular about our stuffing ingredients! So keep your oysters (we’re Midwestern), cornbread (we’re Northerners) and most fruit, dried or fresh (unless it was something Grandma would use.) In the Midwest, we don’t need no stinking* water chestnuts (not local) or wild rice (different dish.) We don’t want cheese (sacrilege) or leeks (la di da). We really don’t want greens (trust me, nothing will make this healthy) or mushrooms and/or anything else “fancy” or “trendy.”
And bacon? No bacon! I’m taking a stand here – just like cheese, bacon shouldn’t be in everything, and really shouldn’t be in a classic stuffing. You heard it here, first, fellow Americans! Sausage goes in stuffing. And giblets. Ask your Grandma. (Update: my sister, when she read this took umbrage – and so not too long ago, I made her recipe for the My Sister’s Ridiculously Delish Bacon Stuffing. And it was really good! Excellent, even! had to eat my words…but then, of course, I still go back to this recipe for Classic Midwestern Stuffing or Dressing!)
Making Classic Midwestern Stuffing or Dressing:
Let’s talk about the rest of the ingredients here. There are ways to shortcut stuffing, but these common deviations do make a difference. Especially the bread!
For the best stuffing, skip the bagged or boxed already dried bread. Sometimes you’ve gotta do what ya gotta do, but while this shortcut may make a tasty stuffing it will never make a great one. Stuffing isn’t just about taste, it’s about texture. Look for a good sturdy bread or combination of breads, a good, hearty bakery Italian is ideal. If possible, try to find one without a lot of additives and softeners which inhibit the drying process.
There’s not a lot of broth in here, but trust me here – a gorgeous home-made stock brings true flavor & body to the stuffing that no boxed, canned or powdered product ever will. If you can possibly swing it, go with home-made – whether chicken or turkey. You’ll be able to control the salt and avoid that boxed, “fakey” flavor. Make it a few weeks ahead and freeze until needed to cut down on the last minute Holiday cooking craziness and you’ll probably find yourself using it for other dishes coming to the table, too.
The butter? It’s not a typo, this outrageous amount, about a tablespoon per serving, but this is a huge amount of stuffing. If you’re worried, cut it back some, but I wouldn’t cut it past a 3/4 cup, a stick and a half. And giblets? That’s your call. I usually skip them (don’t tell my Mom!)
Saving Money on Classic Midwestern Stuffing or Dressing:
Whenever a feast day like Thanksgiving or Christmas rolls around, I pick up items I know I’ll need as I see them on sale. The bread can be picked up and dried and bagged until you need it. Sausage can be bought whenever it’s on sale and chucked in the freezer.
And of course, over the pre-holiday sales, you’re going to find all these ingredients at a low at one store or another. Do yourself (and your budget) a favor and shop selectively and stock up on all the seasonal ingredients (and by that I mean Thanksgiving or Christmas season) that you’ll use throughout the next few months until the next great holiday sales hit around Easter. Check out my post on Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year’s Sales for items to look for.
Classic Midwestern Stuffing
- 1 pound breakfast sausage
- 3 cups diced onion (1 large or two medium)
- 4 cups diced celery (figure about 2 to 3 stalks per cup)
- 2 sticks butter (1 cup)
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 2 teaspoons sage
- 1 teaspoon salt (reduce if using canned broth)
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 16 cups dried bread cubes (about the equivalent of two one-pound loaves, a good white bread or a mixture of your choice)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup milk
- Chicken or Turkey broth (see recipe) about a cup, all of it may not be used.
- Turkey Giblets, if available & desired
This stuffing will be baked at 350 degrees for about 45 to 55 minutes. Adjustments will need to be made if cooking at a different temperature or if using different sized pans (for instance 1 large pan or two smaller pans.)
Bread Crumbs: Several days ahead (three to four) cut bread into about 1 inch by 1/2 inch cubes. Place on a tray in a safe place to dry. May also be spread out on trays and baked in a 300-degree F. oven for 30 to 50 minutes, stirring and rotating trays now and then. Cool before using. Premade bread cubes (14 to 16 ounces) may be used but you’ll need to increase the amount of broth and it will affect the quality of the stuffing.
Broth: Chicken or Turkey stock may be used, home-made is best. If time allows, simmer the broth with the Turkey giblets (but not the liver) and neck for 30 minutes. Finely chop giblets and add to stuffing, discarding any bones from the neck. I often save the neck to add to my turkey stock I make after the meal.
Saute sausage, celery, and onions in butter until softened, cool slightly. In a very large bowl, toss bread cubes with poultry seasoning, sage, salt & pepper. Add the celery/onion mixture and toss with clean hands.
Mix egg and milk and add to stuffing mixture, tossing again. Moisten with chicken broth until desired consistency.
Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes or so until golden brown.
Just for fun:
* Americans have long laughed at the Mel Brook’s parody Blazing Saddles and the line “We don’t need no stinking badges.” Brooks misquoted this from the questionable classic, The Treasure of Sierra Madre and the quote has appeared in many movies, books, and stories over the years.
So for my more far-flung friends, if you ever hear an American say, “We don’t need no stinkin’ something or other” they’re not suffering from a lack of language skills, they’re trying to be funny! 🙂