DISCLAIMER: I love to tell you about quick, easy recipes. You know I do. This recipe is far from quick. It is THE most time-consuming part of my Thanksgiving repertoire. That said, it’s something I’ve been asked by my family to make every year since I found the recipe 4 years ago. Plus, you can make it up to two days ahead of time, so it ends up actually saving you time on Thanksgiving day. It’s not difficult, at all, but you have to be patient with it. That said, here we go!
Every family has their own Thanksgiving traditions held close to their hearts. You may have Great Grandma’s recipe for the perfect turkey, Aunt Lulu’s no fail gravy and Cousin Percy’s Pumpkin Pie. Thanksgiving is a time for traditions. We look forward to the recognizable feast all year and when we finally get to dive in, we eat until our stomachs are ready to burst. Good times, all around. Thanksgiving dinner is my favorite meal of the year. I am all about keeping traditions alive, but every once in a while, I like to throw a wrench in and try a new recipe on the big day. This is how I found the stuffing recipe that my husband now refers to as “Thanksgiving in a Dish”.
Honestly, I have no idea what drew me to this recipe. I’m not a big fan of maple syrup anything, unless it’s topping my pancakes. You’d think that just reading the name of it would have turned me away. It didn’t and I’m so glad I tried it. For all of you “I’m not sure about maple” people like me, rest assured that the maple syrup doesn’t overpower this at all. It adds a little bit of sweetness to it, but the recipe in no way tastes like your morning french toast. It’s Thanksgiving dinner through and through.
The first thing you’ll need to do is cube up 1 1/2 lbs. of bread. Anyone who has ever made stuffing/dressing before will tell you that stale bread works best. Cube up the bread (I use sourdough. You’ll need about a round and a half.) and leave it out on a couple of cookie sheets overnight to dry out. You can do this weeks in advance! After the bread has dried, put it in a freezer bag and throw it in the freezer. Just thaw it out for a bit before you’re going to use it.
Like I said, you can prepare the entire dish up to two days in advance. So, when you have a couple of hours to spare, get started. Prep all of your veggies and herbs first. Chop up some onion and celery, fresh sage and thyme.
Before sauteing the onions and celery, you’ll add the fresh herbs and a bit of poultry seasoning to some butter. Once those herbs hit the pan, you’ll be hit with that amazing hearty, savory smell that just screams Thanksgiving. It smells so, so good. If the Yankee Candle people could bottle up that fragrance, I would be all over it.
After the veggies and herbs have softened in the butter, you’ll add a lot of chicken broth (7 1/2 cups!!) and a ham hock. Ham hocks look a little bit creepy, I know, but it will add a subtle smokiness to your stuffing.
Speaking of stuffing, I should address something. Technically, this isn’t a stuffing. It’s a dressing. Stuffing is stuffed, and cooked, inside of the turkey while dressing is baked and served on the side. This is a side dish. However, due to the amount of liquid involved, it’s very moist. Just as moist as it would be if it had cooked inside of the turkey. I’m not usually a big fan of dressings because they tend to be on the drier side. This isn’t. I promise. I don’t know why the recipe is called stuffing, but it is, and I’m not about to change it. Anyway, back to the nitty-gritty.
As your broth mixture is reducing, you’ll need to cook up some sausage in the oven. Break the sausage (just regular breakfast sausage) into quarter sized pieces and place them on a foil lined baking sheet.
They’ll bake for about 15 minutes. Just set it aside to cool for a bit once it’s browned up.
Once it’s cool, you’ll chop it up into smaller pieces.
After the broth has reduced by a third, you’ll add the sausage to the broth mixture and let that cook for about five minutes. The ham hock and bay leaves will be removed at this point. The recipe says to chop up the meat from the ham hock and add it back to the broth. I can’t ever get any decent meat off of a ham hock, so I usually just throw it away at this point. If you can find some meat, go for it.
Now, you’ll gently stir your stale bread into the broth and sausage mixture until the broth is absorbed. It will be really mushy, but that’s OK. It will be prettier when it bakes up.
Once the bread is mixed in, you’ll add just a little bit of maple syrup (the real stuff…not pancake syrup), a dash of pepper, and some butter to finish it off.
Pour the stuffing into a 9×13 dish and you’re (almost) done!!! Now, it just needs to be baked up.
Fast forward a day or two and it the stuffing needs to bake for about 30 minutes. If you make it up right before you bake it, only 20.
That’s it! See? Not too hard, it just takes some time. When it’s done, you’re left with a delicious, savory stuffing that is as moist and flavorful as it would be had it cooked inside the bird itself. Throwing a wrench into our Thanksgiving menu a few years ago really worked in our favor, because now we have a new family food tradition that I can pass on to you. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
SAUSAGE MAPLE BREAD STUFFING
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine
- 1½ lb. dense, chewy bread, cut into ¾ inch cubes (I use sourdough), about 13 cups
- 10 Tbsp. butter, softened
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh thyme leaves
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh sage leaves
- ¾ tsp. poultry seasoning
- 3 cups medium-diced yellow onion, about 2 medium
- 3 cups medium-diced celery, about 6 stalks
- 7½ cups low-salt chicken broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 smoked ham hock
- 1 lb. bulk pork breakfast sausage
- ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
- 1½ tsp. ground pepper
- kosher salt
- Lay the bread cubes in a single layer on two baking sheets. Leave out to dry completely, tossing once or twice, for one to two days. (You can do this weeks in advance and just freeze the stale bread cubes until you are ready to use them.)
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375*.
- In a heavy, 8 qt. stockpot or Dutch oven, melt 5 Tbsp. of the butter over medium heat. When it begins to foam, add the sage, thyme and poultry seasoning. Stir the herbs to coat them with the butter and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Stir in the onions and celery and cook, until softened, about 15 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bay leaves, and ham hock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer, until the liquid reduces by one-third, about 30 minutes.
- Break the sausage up into quarter sized pieces and lay the pieces out on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Let cool, and then chop the pieces of sausage into smaller chunks.
- Add the sausage to the broth mixture and simmer, just about 5 minutes, to allow the flavors to blend. Remove the ham hock and bay leaves. Discard the bay leaves and let the ham hock cool a bit on the side. Stir the dried bread, several cups at a time, into the broth until all of the broth is absorbed and the bread cubes are well moistened. Stir in the maple syrup, pepper, and the remaining 5 Tbsp. of butter.
- Once the ham hock has cooled, pick off the meat (if there is any), chop it into small pieces and add it to the stuffing. Season to taste with salt, if necessary. (Depending on the sausage and the ham hock, it may be salted enough.)
- Transfer to a 9x13 inch baking dish and, if baking right away, bake uncovered at 375* until heated through and crisp on top. About 20 minutes if freshly made, or 30-40 if made ahead. Can be made up to baking point two days ahead, covered and refrigerated until baking time. Serves 12