OK, this might be the most heretical statement since Galileo argued that the sun, not the Earth, was the center of our universe, but here goes: Forget the turkey, forget the candied yams and mashed potatoes. Even the pumpkin pie.
The most important dish at the Thanksgiving table is the dressing. Yes, that rather simple hodgepodge of dried bread crumbs and sundry other goodies is what makes the biggest feast of the year the Biggest Feast of the Year.
Whether made with sausage, laced with sage or thyme or both, slathered with gravy or eaten plain, dressing is what many of us crave at Thanksgiving more than anything else — even that post-dinner tryptophan coma. And hardcore fans know that even served cold, dressing makes the finest next-day breakfast this side of leftover pizza.
When addressing dressing, a distinction must be made: We are talking about something that is baked in a serving dish, not stuffed into the turkey. We prefer the casserole method, since it makes for better browning, is moist rather than soggy, and doesn't prevent heat circulating within the bird's cavity, which makes for over-long roasting times and can also spur health hazards involving undercooked poultry.
Here we offer five dressing recipes, including two meatless versions, that are sure to satisfy.
William Porter: 303-954-1877, email@example.com or twitter.com/williamporterdp
Some tips for making thanksgiving dressing
Many stuffings can be made a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator until use. Bring to room temperature before reheating.
Keep a can of low-sodium or salt-free vegetable or poultry stock on hand in case you need to moisten the dressing before putting it in the oven.
When making bread crumbs, start with a quality loaf of bread, such as a good country bread.
Tearing instead of cutting the bread into cubes makes for more pockets to catch moisture.
Southern-Style Thanksgiving Dressing
From William Porter. Serves 12.
1 pound pork sausage, preferably Jimmy Dean
1½ 14-ounce bags Pepperidge Farms herb-seasoned breadcrumbs
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 medium white onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 stick butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute the diced onion/celery in butter until transluscent. Set aside and crumble the sausage into the same pan, stirring and chopping until the meat is crumbled and about 80 percent cooked.
While this is going on, combine the soups into a small pot and bring to a simmer. Warming the soup makes for easier mixing with the breadcrumbs.
In a large deep bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir thoroughly with a sturdy spoon. This will take a few minutes. The mixture may appear dry but there is plenty of moisture in there, so trust the recipe. Season to taste, and if you can't find seasoned breadcrumbs, stir in 1½ teaspoons each of sage and thyme.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour everything into a 9x13 glass baking dish that has been prepped with cooking spray. Press and pat the dressing mix, which should feel dense and fairly moist, to fill the dish. Distribute 6-7 pats of butter atop the dressing. Cover with foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, remove the foil and let the top brown to your preference.
Fig, Apple and Wheat Germ Stuffing
If you're inclined, you can add two ounces of thin-sliced prosciutto to this recipe. This recipe came from the folks who make Kretschmer wheat germ. Serves 8.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chopped shallots
3 stalks celery, diced
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
3 sage leaves, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
7 slices whole wheat bread, toasted and cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup Kretschmer Original Toasted Wheat Germ
1 Granny Smith apple, chopped
¼ cup chopped dried figs, about 6
¾ cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat large frying pan. Add olive oil, onion, garlic, shallots and celery. Cook on medium high, stirring often for 5 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Add mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in thyme, sage and salt and pepper to taste.
Place bread in a 13x9-inch oven-proof pan. Stir in onion and mushroom mixture, wheat germ, apples, figs and chicken broth until evenly distributed.
Sprinkle parsley and the optional prosciutto strips on top. Bake for 45 minutes.
Italian Mother-in-Law Dressing
This recipe comes from the November issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Serves 8-10.
½ stick unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish
¼ cup golden raisins
3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth, divided
1 pound day-old country bread, torn into ½-inch pieces (about 10 cups)
8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 bunch red Swiss chard, center ribs and stems removed, cut into ½-inch pieces, leaves torn
2½ cups chopped yellow onions
5 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Butter a 13x9-inch baking dish and set aside. Soak raisins in 1 cup of broth for 30 minutes.
Scatter bread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until dried out. Let cool and transfer to a big mixing bowl.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chard leaves and stir constantly until just wilted. Transfer to bowl with bread. Heat 2 tablespoons oil and ¼ cup butter in same skillet; add stems and cook, stirring often, until crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add to bowl.
Heat 4 tablespoons oil and ¼ cup butter in same skillet; add onions and garlic. Stir often until just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in vinegar and sugar; cook until vinegar is almost evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Add onion mixture to chard in bowl. Add raisins with broth, olives and the next five ingredients. Gently fold into bread mixture until thoroughly combined. Drizzle in 1 cup broth and toss gently. Let cool completely.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk remaining cup broth and eggs in a small bowl. Gently fold into dressing until thoroughly combined. Transfer to prepared dish, cover with foil, and bake about 40 minutes until top is crisped.
Corn Bread Dressing With Chorizo and Chiles
This is adapted from a recipe by the great Texas chef Stephen Pyles. Make the bread a day or two ahead so it will dry a bit.Serves 8.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound bulk Mexican-style chorizo sausage
4 tablespoons butter
1 white onion, chopped
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup diced carrots
2 poblano peppers, char-roasted and diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
¼ cup bourbon (optional)
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
8 cups coarsely crumbled blue-corn bread
½ cup chicken stock
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.In a skillet, heat the oil over medium and add the chorizo, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Saute until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place in a large mixing bowl. Wipe down the pan.
In the cleaned pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the onions, celery, carrots, peppers and garlic. Saute for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are transluscent and soft. Add bourbon and boil for 3 minutes to reduce the liquid.
Remove pan from heat and add the thyme, sage and cilantro. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the chorizo, add the bread crumbs and chicken stock, and toss to moisten the crumbs.
Put the dressing into a 13x9 pan that has been prepped with cooking spray, cover, then bake in a 350-degree oven for an hour.
Roasted chestnuts, pomegranate seeds and oysters are fine stuffing accoutrements for a classy Thanksgiving feast. But if a mess of children will be dining with you this year — whether you own, borrow or merely tolerate them — you might consider tossing notions of classy. This recipe for cheese-laced stuffing isn't dumbed down in flavor, but it is easy enough to assemble from scratch while also refereeing the little ones playing hide and seek under the holiday table. From Alison Ladman of The Associated Press, makes 10 servings.
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken or turkey broth
8 ounces shredded Monterey jack cheese
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large loaf (about 18 to 20 ounces) stale bread (such as challah), torn into pieces and lightly toasted
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 350 F. Spray a large casserole dish or a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook until softened and the onion is translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the flour and stir to coat. Stir in the milk, then the broth. Stir continuously and bring up to a simmer, cooking for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Monterey jack cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the torn bread into the mixture, then spoon into the prepared baking dish, arranging it in an even layer. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden.
Per serving: 340 calories; 150 calories from fat 44 percent of total calories); 17 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 33 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 15 g protein; 590 mg sodium.