Sausage, Sage & Pecan Stuffing · GF (2 trays)
I like to say I don’t have a savory bone in my body, but about once a year I post something with a salty edge. But with a recipe based on Sage Cornbread, I don’t feel like I’m straying too far out of my league. I make a batch every year, as a contribution to our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. My dad, fondly referred to as The Gaffer, then transforms it into the world’s most ridiculously amazing cornbread stuffing.
The Gaffer navigates the bread debate with chunky pieces of white bread and cornbread, soaked in a mixture of homemade stock, evaporated milk, and sage butter. The whole thing’s jumbled together with nuggets of breakfast sausage, toasted pecan, celery and onion. It’s impossible to taste without forsaking all other recipes, and the only part of Thanksgiving that really matters (as far as I’m concerned).
The Turkey I could take or leave. Gravy, meh. Cranberry Sauce? Who cares. And forget dessert, I’ve got that all year round. If this stuffing doesn’t make it to the table, neither do I. Fortunately, The Gaffer has never let me down.
In the spirit of the original, I’ve kept Dad’s “this and that” measurements, but with the addition of weight measurements to take the guesswork out of choosing however many stalks of celery.
Here’s the thing: his recipe looks evil. But it’s totally reasonable once you factor in the sheer number of servings— enough to survive Thanksgiving with leftovers to spare. Because seriously, if you don’t have any there’ll be riots. Best part? You don’t have to bake both trays at once; save the second batch to pop in the oven on Black Friday.
If you’re really thinking ahead, make it early and refrigerate the unbaked stuffing up to a week, or stash it for months in the freezer. Knocking it out ahead of time makes Thanksgiving day much, much easier. The Sage Cornbread can be made in advance and frozen too, letting you tackle the project in stages.
Sausage Sage and Pecan Stuffing, two large dishes
12 ounces pecans (2 1/2 cups pecan pieces or 3 cups pecan halves)
1 pound country style white bread (Gluten Free breads work fine!), preferably stale
1 batch Sage Cornbread, preferably stale
2 pounds yellow onions (from 4 unpeeled, medium-sized onions)
1 pound celery, washed (from 6 medium stalks)
1 pound ground sausage; my dad always buys a mild, sage sausage
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 ounce fresh sage (about 1/4 cup loosely packed leaves) sage
6 large eggs
12 ounces (1 can) evaporated milk
8 ounces (1 cup) chicken or turkey stock
1 Tablespoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
This makes a ton of stuffing, so have a super huge, oversized mixing bowl on hand. Whatever bowl you just picked? Not big enough. Go another size up.
Preheat the oven to 350° and lightly toast the pecans; about 8 minutes. Dump them into the bowl, then roughly tear the bread (a few slices at a time) into 1” pieces. Break the cornbread into eight big chunks and add them too; the pieces will crumble into smaller bits when you stir in the other ingredients. You can proceed with the recipe, or cover the bowl with plastic and pause for as long as you like. The breads actually benefit from a day of staling, especially if they were fresh to begin with.
Cut the onions in half through the root end, peel, and chop into 1/2” chunks. Next, trim the ends off each celery stalk and slice into 1/4” pieces. Set the vegetables aside for now.
Put the sausage into a 12” skillet over medium heat, and break into pieces with a fork. Cook until the sausage crumbles have browned on both sides, though the larger chunks may not be cooked through. The sausage will finish cooking as the stuffing bakes. Transfer the browned sausage to the bowl of bread, but leave the drippings in the skillet.
Toss the onions and celery into the pan with the drippings (yeah, I know. Look, it’s Thanksgiving, okay?) and place over medium-low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits of sausage left on the bottom of the pan. Sauté until the onions are translucent, but not brown; about 10 minutes. Add the vegetables to the bread.
Return the skillet to the stove, reduce the heat to low, and add the butter. While it melts, chop the sage as finely as you can. Add it to the melted butter and increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring often if not constantly, until the butter starts to bubble and foam. If you like, you can continue to cook the butter until it browns, but this is not something The Gaffer would do.
Pour the foamy sage butter over the bread, and remind yourself that it will stretch into a million servings so you don’t have to feel guilty.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until uniform. Add the evaporated milk, stock, salt and pepper; whisk to combine. Pour over the bread, and fold with a flexible spatula until evenly coated.
Portion the stuffing into two 9” by 13” glass or ceramic casserole dishes. Don’t pack the stuffing down or smooth the top; you want maximum surface area, with lots of jagged peaks that’ll brown into wonderfully crusty bits. (My friend Stephanie likes to scoop up individual Stuffing Balls.)
Whatever the case, cover the stuffing with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed; up to a week. Alternately, cover with foil and freeze up to six months.
Thaw the frozen stuffing overnight in the fridge before baking. Set the refrigerated stuffing out at room temperature while the oven preheats to 375°. Bake, uncovered, until the stuffing has browned on top and looks moist, but not gooey or wet inside (take it from the oven and use a fork to peek inside). About 30 minutes. If you plan to bake the stuffing as soon as you’ve made it, shave about 5 minutes off the clock as it will bake faster.
Nov 19, 2013 · 3:13 PM
In your text, before the recipe, you spoke of the dressing including “condensed milk”. I thought, yuk! Sweet condensed milk in dressing!
Then the recipe showed evaporated milk. Whew! Thank goodness.
I guess your father got his recipe from his mother, who got it from her mother – who was my grandmother. Must be my my dressing and yours/his is so much alike!
Nov 19, 2013 · 8:07 PM
Hi Cousin Kay! You know, I was talking about this earlier with someone else. I don’t know if it’s a Kentucky thing, or just a weird family quirk, but we always called the sweet stuff sweetened condensed milk, where as straight up “condensed milk” was just another term for evaporated milk. But apparently lots of people equate “condensed milk” with sweetened condensed milk, so some other readers pointed that out too. I did some googling, but didn’t come up with any clear cut answers. I edited the text throughout to be evaporated milk, to clear up any confusion.
I’ll have to ask Dad about the origin of his recipe!!
Nov 22, 2013 · 12:39 PM
Hi hiya2u! My dad uses a mild, sage pork sausage but you can use whatever suits. I’m actually allergic to pork, so he’s made it with chicken or beef sausage in the past too.
Nov 28, 2013 · 12:40 PM
Hey Salty! Stuffing for breakfast is a major tradition in our household, welcome to the family.
Dec 05, 2013 · 9:41 AM
Hi Ed! Thanks for coming back to tell me, that’s awesome. So happy your family found a stuffing they like. And…your 8 year old sounds like my kinda kid.
Jan 02, 2014 · 10:36 AM
I made the GF version for Christmas and it was amazing! There were only a few of us so I halved the recipe, but I was still eating leftovers for days (and that’s a good thing). Thanks for all the inspiration, your blog is now a pastry go-to for me. Looking forward to your book and more great posts
Jan 03, 2014 · 9:29 PM
Hi Callie! I’m so glad you made the GF variation! I made it for Thanksgiving once, and nobody noticed anything different…. So glad it was a hit for you too. Thanks for hanging tight with me while we wait for the book, the anticipation is driving me batty! But I’m happy to report that at least 75% of the recipes are gluten free or include a simple GF variation. Desserts are for everyone!