Stuffing or dressing? My mom and I used to go round and around about what its called. She called it stuffing because she cooked it stuffed inside the bird. For faster roasting and food safety reasons, I prefer to cook it separately in a shallow casserole, hence the term dressing.
No matter what you call it, you can’t serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner without it. Here’s my recipe, a take on my mom’s traditional turkey stuffing or turkey dressing with herbs, fennel and leeks.
One year it hit me that my mom would not live forever. If I wanted to make her traditional turkey stuffing I’d better pay attention. Notebook in hand, I followed her around the kitchen one Thanksgiving, documenting her every step. Because she never used a recipe, I made her measure everything she used.
With my mom now gone, I’m thankful for those memories and the lessons learned. With bread being the main component in stuffing, good quality bread is essential. Mom always used white bread, which I rarely buy. It’s been replaced by healthier whole wheat for sandwiches and breakfast toast. But for stuffing, you can’t beat classic white bread.
I did some research before choosing my bread. Visiting every grocery store in my area, reviewing the brands and reading the labels was eye opening. One popular brand had 4 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat per slice. I eventually chose a healthy artisan-style loaf from an organic bakery with ingredients you could pronounce.
Dry Your Bread
Lay the bread slices out on a cutting board. Trim the crusts and discard the heels. I used to save them and feed the ducks at a local park. Next, trim the slices into small cubes about ½”-3/4” in size. Spread the cubes out on a rimmed baking sheet (or two for plenty of air circulation) and allow them to stand uncovered 18-24 hours to dry. You can do this several days ahead, packaging the dry cubes in an airtight container or plastic zip bag until you are ready to continue.
Prep Your Vegetables
Instead of just onion and celery, I add fennel, leeks and garlic for more flavor in the “aromatics” department. If you have not cooked with fennel or leeks, they add good texture, flavor and depth of flavor to the stuffing. For leeks – Trim the dark green top of off the leek and discard (or save for making stock or broth). Trim off the root end. Slice the light green and white part of the leek in half lengthwise and run under cold water to dislodge any sand or grit. Cut leek crosswise into thin strips.
For fennel – Trim stalks off the top of the fennel bulb. Save fluffy fronds for garnish if desired. Trim the bottom of the fennel bulb. Cut the bulb in half top to bottom, then slice into long strips. Cut the strips crosswise into a small dice.
Make the Stuffing
To make your stuffing, cook the vegetables (leek, fennel, celery and onion) with garlic slowly in your “fat” of choice. I use olive oil or an olive oil and butter combination for the flavor and richness. Mom used to use a whole cube of butter. Being health-minded, I can’t bring myself to do that, even though it tastes wonderful. Use a large saute pan or skillet over medium low heat and cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Next, add your bread cubes to the pan and stir together. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the milk and herbs. You can also use chicken, turkey or vegetable broth, or almond milk for vegans as the liquid. If you’d like to make a slightly richer version, whisk a whole egg into the milk before combining with the bread and vegetable mixture.
Place stuffing in an oiled medium sized shallow casserole; 11″ x 7″ or 9″ x 9″ will work. Cover with foil and bake until golden. You may want to remove the foil the last few minutes for better browning. Serve with your turkey. This recipe is also great served with roast chicken throughout the year.
NOTE – Since posting this recipe we have gone both wheat and gluten-free. I have yet to experiment using GF bread. As soon as I do I will post notes for all of my GF buddies.
Helpful links on companion recipes, tools and information
- The pan I am using above in the photos is an All-Clad 6 quart deep saute. They are big to store, but really handy for big jobs.
- Mashed sweet potatoes
- Sour Cream Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
- Baby Green Beans
- Creamy Spiced Pumpkin Dessert, dairy-free
- The best tasting and easiest turkey ever! Dry-brining article from the LA Times food section and Russ Parsons. Read all of the sidebars as well. I’ve been doing my turkey this way since the article was published.
- No-Cook Cranberry Salad (relish) Another cranberry relish recipe from Susan at The Urban Baker.Really nice with raspberries and apples.
Bread stuffing, or dressing, may be a Thanksgiving tradition alongside roast turkey, but it works equally as well along side roast chicken the rest of the year. Leeks, fennel, onion and celery make a wonderful, aromatic vegetable base for the dried bread cubes and herbs. To make this vegetarian, use vegetable broth. For vegan cooks, use almond milk and all olive oil. To save time, make this in the morning, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temp (about and hour) before baking. GF version yet to come. NOTE – Start by drying your bread cubes a day ahead of time.
- 1 1/2 pound (680 grams) loaf artisan-style healthy organic white bread
- 1 medium leek, light green and white part only
- 1 medium (or 2 small) fennel bulb, trimmed and diced small
- 3 large celery ribs, diced small
- 1 medium onion, diced small
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced fine or use a garlic press
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil (or part unsalted butter)
- 1/2-3/4 cup (120-210 ml) milk (or chicken, turkey, vegetable broth, or almond milk)
- 1 large egg, beaten (optional)
- 1/2 cup (112 grams) finely chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves (or 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme)
- 1/2 teaspoon wild fennel pollen or ground fennel (optional)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- DO AHEAD – Trim crusts from the bread slices. Cut each slice into 1/2″ – 3/4″ cubes. Discard crusts and heels of the loaf. Arrange cubes on rimmed baking sheets to dry, uncovered, for 18-24 hours. You can do this two days ahead and package the cubes in zip plastic bags or an airtight container. Cubes can be stored at room temperature or refrigerated until ready to use.
- For the vegetables – Trim dark green top and root end from the leek, saving the white and light green part. Discard top or save for making broth or stock. Slice the reserved leek in half lengthwise and run under cold water to clean out any sand or dirt. Cut the leek crosswise into thin pieces.
- For the fennel, trim stalks off the top. Save the fluffy fronds for garnish if desired. Cut the bulb in half top to bottom. Slice the halves into long thin, strips, then crosswise into small dice. For the celery and onion, dice small. You can do these a day ahead, combine, and refrigerate until cooking time.
- When ready to prepare the stuffing, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil or oil/butter combination in a large saute pan (I use a 6 quart All Clad) or large skillet until melted. Add the leek, fennel, celery and onion. Add a little salt and pepper. Cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook another 60 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the bread cubes and herbs. Whisk together the milk and egg if using. Start with a 1/2 cup of milk (pr liquid of choice). The mixture should be pretty moist and hold together. If it seems dry, add the other 1/4 cup of liquid. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
- Place stuffing into an oiled or buttered medium sized shallow casserole or baking dish and cover with foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 30-40 minutes. Then uncover and bake until the top is golden brown and the stuffing measures 165 degrees with a kitchen thermometer. Serve and enjoy.