Thanksgiving is stuffing season as far as I’m concerned. I occasionally make it during the rest of the year, but I always do several batches around Thanksgiving and between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A basic stuffing (or dressing, if you come from a region where that name is more widely used) is a seasoned bread (or other starch) and vegetable mixture, cooked inside the turkey or in the oven alongside the bird. Like a basic bread pudding recipe, stuffing is almost like a blank slate that you can put your own spin on easily with different breads, vegetables and seasonings.
I’ve done Bacon, Pumpkin and Pecan Stuffings, Caramelized Onion Stuffing, Roasted Garlic Stuffing and Vegetarian Stuffing. This year I’m doing a Browned Butter and Sage Stuffing with Walnuts and Cranberries, where simple ingredients come together to deliver a stuffing with a lot of flavor.
I usually like to use either a relatively plain sandwich bread or a whole grain bread for stuffing. Sandwich bread typically is a blank canvas that allows other flavors to stand out. Whole grain breads add a deep, nutty flavor and can add a lot of dimension and heartiness to stuffing. Since browned butter is an element that I like to use in desserts, I wanted to use a richer and slightly sweeter bread for this particular stuffing to highlight the sweetness of the butter. I used my homemade No Knead Pumpkin Dinner Bread. If you are using that recipe, you’ll need a bit less than 3/4 of the loaf. You can use any bread, but I recommend choosing something slightly rich, such as challah, so that the browned butter has a good base to work with.
The bread cubes are tossed with cooked onions and celery, toasted walnuts and dried cranberries. The mixture is seasoned with fresh sage, then doused with browned butter and chicken stock (vegetable stock or any kind of stock could be used) before being pressed into a casserole dish and baked. The stuffing has a nice crunch from the walnuts, a crisp top and an almost creamy center from the tender bread. And, of course, you get a nice note of browned butter that makes the dish taste rich and complex.
Leftovers go very well in turkey sandwiches, too.
Browned Butter and Sage Stuffing with Walnuts
2 lbs bread (any kind, recommend challah or homemade)
1/3 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup diced onion
3/4 cup diced celery
salt and pepper, to taste
3 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries
2 2/3 – 3 cups chicken broth or stock
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch casserole dish/baking pan.
Cut the bread into rough 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl.
In a large skillet, brown the butter. Cook butter over medium heat until it foams, then starts to brown and take on a rich, toasted smell (about 5 minutes). Pour into a small dish and set aside.
In the same skillet over medium heat, cook diced onions and celery until onions are tender, about 5-8 minutes.
Transfer onions and celery to a medium bowl. Add fresh sage. Add coarsely chopped walnuts and dried cranberries. Add browned butter and toss to coat.
Pour vegetable mixture over the bread cubes in the large bowl. Add chicken stock (I used 2 2/3 cups with homemade bread, use slightly more if you prefer a wetter stuffing) and fold gently with a spatula until vegetables are evenly distributed and all bread cubes are moistened.
Pour into prepared pan and press into an even layer. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until top is golden brown.
Note: If you need to substitute dried sage for fresh, you should use approx 1 tbsp and make sure that your dried sage is still relatively fresh so you get the best flavor.