With November almost here, finally, I imagine many soon-to-be Thanksgiving hosts across the country are digging out their recipe files, drafting their menus, making monstrous grocery lists, and crafting their game-day plans. If any of these hosts are like me, many of the same questions are arising:
To brine the turkey or not? How to cook it this year? Low and slow? Fast and furious? Stuffed? Deep Fried? Spatchcocked? In pieces?
The how-to-cook-the-bird question, for me, may never be answered. Where I have found resolve, however, is in stuffing. The recipe I love, which I included in my cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs, yields a stuffing with a crisp golden exterior and a creamy center, flavorful enough to eat on its own, but welcoming to many a relish, sauce, gravy or anything else the Thanksgiving plate has to offer. Best of all, it can be customized to your preferences and prepped ahead: Make this today, freeze it, and on November 23d, pop it straight into the oven—no need to take up precious refrigerator space with an overnight thaw (see details below).
Here’s What I Do:
Buy (or bake) a couple loaves of country-style white bread and remove the crust. Most loaves in grocery stores or high-end bakeries will have thick crusts, which, in my opinion, are too tough for stuffing. If you bake bread with a softer crust, like this Genius-approved No-Knead Peasant Bread, there is no need to remove the crust. For stuffing, I prefer neutral flavored bread as opposed to sourdough or cornbread, but, of course, use what you like.
Tear the bread into irregular chunks or dice into cubes, toss with a generous amount of olive oil, and toast until golden. From a somewhat fussy but incredibly delicious Suzanne Goin recipe published in Bon Appétit several years ago, I learned that saturating the cubes of bread with a generous amount of oil before toasting them, makes for an especially tasty and beautifully golden stuffing. From a wise Italian nonna, Antonietta Fazone, I learned that toasting bread as opposed to staling it is preferable for preserving its flavor. While visiting Antonietta one day, she ran a slice of bread she had dried out under a streaming faucet, then broke off a piece for me to taste. Next, she ran a slice of stale bread under the faucet, then handed me that piece to compare, but there was no comparison—the one she had oven-dried was the unmistakable winner. Toasting had preserved the flavor, staling had not.
Prepare seasonings and add-ins according to your preferences. Stuffing can be viewed as a blank canvas, dressed up with spicy sausage or briny oysters or kept bare bones with onion, celery, and maybe a dash of Bell’s Seasoning. Festive additions include cranberries, prunes, dates, roasted chestnuts, crisped pancetta or bacon, sautéed apples and shredded Brussels sprouts, but stuffing is amenable to countless seasonings, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and meats. Here I've kept it somewhat simple with not-quite caramelized onions and kale.
Toss bread and add-ins with stock, salt, and pepper. If you are making a vegetarian stuffing, obviously use vegetable stock. Otherwise, chicken or turkey stock will not only keep the stuffing moist but also impart it with a rich, meaty flavor. Once the stuffing is tossed, taste it. This is when it’s important to get the seasoning right. The mixture should taste well seasoned, almost like a panzanella salad—it should taste so good, in fact, you wouldn’t mind stopping right then and there, calling the dish done.
It should taste like you wouldn't mind eating it uncooked, like a salad.Photo by Alexandra Stafford
Whisk one egg with a little more stock, then toss one last time. The addition of one egg helps bind the stuffing. This is not essential, but if you like a stuffing that sticks together, add the egg. If you don’t mind having a looser-textured stuffing, omit the egg.
Transfer stuffing to buttered baking dish, cover with foil, and freeze until Thanksgiving (or up to 3 months), transfer to the oven to bake. To cook frozen stuffing: Bake directly from the freezer covered for one hour at 350º F. Uncover, increase the temperature to 400º F, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes more. Alternatively, if space permits, thaw in the fridge overnight, and bake covered for 30 minutes at 400º F, uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes more. If you want to eat it now, the process is the same: Bake first for 30 minutes covered at 400º F, then for 15 to 20 minutes more uncovered, or until the top layer of bread is golden and crisp. No special occasion required.