Sausage & Chestnut Stuffing
I'm still heartbroken today, the second day after this year's presidential election. It's been a gut-wrenching November for us all, and I'm looking to Thanksgiving with equal parts excitement and dread. You see, my family and I don't see eye to eye in terms of American politics. In general, we're fabulous at keeping our relationships separate from our politics, but this year I'm struggling. I love them with all my heart, of course, but I also feel hurt and betrayed by their choice. I know many others feel the same. Despite all this, time marches on and Thanksgiving approaches. For that day, at least, we'll have to put our bitter feelings aside and try to remember what connects us.
I think stuffing connects us. In all my travels, I've never found anything like stuffing abroad. American stuffing, anyway. Furthermore, I don't know a single American-born citizen who doesn't have a fondness for the stuff. Box stuffing, fancy stuffing, we like it all. Notably, we like our stuffing outside the actual bird so that it's not stuffing at all, but more of a savory bread pudding that's less pudding-y than it should be. Whoever you voted for, I think you know what I mean.
We all have our stuffing hangups. My brothers prefer the box stuff from Stouffer's or Trader Joe's. I prefer to make mine because I like it to puff a little bit from the extra eggs I throw in, and I prefer bigger, torn chunks of bread. Perfect little bread cubes annoy me. (Most perfect things annoy me.) I try to infuse the stock and milk that I use with parmesan rinds and garlic. I also love adding savory garlic sausage, anise-scented fennel, and sweet chestnuts into the mix. You, of course, can add any combo of other things: fennel or Italian sausage, dried cranberries, raisins, oysters, andouille, cornbread- the sky is the limit so long as you follow the basic proportions.
Much of the process can be done ahead, so there isn't much of a reason not to try making your own. The onions, celery, fennel, and sausage can be sauteed ahead and kept in the fridge. The cream and stock can be steeped a few days ahead, too. The bread, of course, can be toasted ahead. So, all you do on T-day is crack those eggs in, butter your pan, throw it all together, and bake it.
One other note: I like my stuffing to be a little on the wet side. Some people like it more dry. If you're one of those people, cut the liquid by half, and/or remove 2 eggs.
Sausage & Chestnut Stuffing
- 10 cups bread, cut into 1" slices and torn into pieces (I don't mind the crusts but feel free to cut them off)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2-3 parmesan rinds (optional)
- 3 ribs of celery, diced
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 head of fennel, cored and diced.
- 1 pound garlic sausage (or another kind that you like)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
- 1/2 teaspoon ground dried rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3/4 stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup roasted or blanched, peeled chestnuts, broken into pieces
- Salt and pepper
- Toss the bread with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toast in a 230 F oven for 20-30 minutes, until golden.
- While the bread is toasting, bring the milk and chicken stock to a simmer in a small pot with the parmesan rinds. Simmer for about 30 minutes, then allow to cool. Strain into a measuring cup or another container to help facilitate this. (This step is optional, totally don't need to get the rinds if you don't already have some lying around.)
- In a large saute pan or pot, saute the sausage until almost fully cooked, and remove from the pan. Add the stick of butter to the pan, allow to melt, and then add the celery, onion, fennel, 2 teaspoons of salt, and dried herbs. Saute until onions are translucent and veggies are almost completely tender. Turn off the heat.
- Preheat your oven to 400F. In a large bowl, stir the bread together with the sauteed veggies, cooked sausage, and chopped sage. Beat the eggs into the milk and stock mixture, and pour over. Toss everything together. Taste and season with more salt, if necessary. Fold in the chestnuts.
- Butter a large oval baking dish (or square, or whatever the mix fits into), and pour the mixture in. Bake for 40-50 minutes until well-browned and bubbling. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes before serving.