Sage & Chestnut Sourdough Stuffing has been in my family for generations and is loaded with fall-time aromatics such as onions, celery, mushrooms, olives, water chestnuts, and of course sage.
There is something about preparing your favorite food traditions, especially if you have enJOYed them over a lifetime. This year in particular I meditated on how I am preparing the same recipe my mother made when I was a kid. Technically I have tweaked it a bit to make it my own, but that is the fun of any recipe we pass down. It just keeps getting better with time. Moreover, I am teaching my children the methods of preparing these recipes that I will hand down to them.
The value of passing on a recipe really got me choked up as I was preparing the stuffing this year. Gratitude filled my heart that I had a heritage of beautiful memories and delicious recipes to remember them by. It is also a pleasure preparing this recipe with my children by my side because I know I am giving something more than just a recipe to them. I am passing on a piece of their history and inheritance. I am passing down a piece of myself that will never be forgotten.
Why We Do What We Do
Not only is it important to hand our recipes down, but the “why” we do what we do can really matter as well. Have you ever heard the story of the ham with the ends cut off? A woman was preparing Christmas dinner and proceeded to cut off the ends of the ham and throw them away before placing the ham into the roasting pan. Her husband asked her why she did this every Christmas. She answered that she didn’t know why and decided to call her mother and ask the same question. Her mother had the same confused answer as well as her mother. Finally, great grandma revealed that when she prepared the ham, it was too big to fit in the pan so she cut off the ends and threw them out to make room. Generation after generation never asked why.
Traditionally this recipe has been prepared using plain white or wheat bread, but I prefer sourdough. This year, I used a day-old loaf of artisan sourdough from Broken Bread I purchased from Red Thread Farm here locally in Leipers Fork, Tennessee. Their bread is made the old-fashioned way with a bubbly starter and only the best organic, pesticide-free, non-GMO ingredients. I met the bakers and they are truly passionate about their bread and it shows.
“The seed breaks to give us the wheat, the soil breaks to give us the crop, the sky breaks to give us the rain, the wheat breaks to give us the bread, and the bread breaks to give us the feast.”— Anne Voscamp
DIY Poultry Seasoning
Poultry seasoning is not a regular spice in the spice cabinet but it is available during the holidays. I use it often, especially in our favorite Skillet Chicken and Biscuits recipe. If you are feeling extra ambitious, or they are out on the grocery store shelves, you can make your own. This recipe, adapted from a recipe I found on All Recipes, yields 1/4 cup:
- 4 teaspoons ground, dried sage
- 3 teaspoons ground, dried thyme
- 2 teaspoon ground, dried marjoram
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground dried rosemary
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
Therapeutic Steps of Turning Bread Into Stuffing
Truthfully, I am not afraid of an ingredient list or several steps in a recipe when it comes to the holidays. Each step connects me to my past and lays a foundation for the future. Okay, I can hear you saying, “Come on woman…it’s just stuffing.” Maybe, but like I said above, some recipes you become a part of just like they become a part of you.
Sage & Chestnut Stuffing is an easy recipe but it does have a few steps. Involve the kids and they will feel like they have played an important part in the holiday preparations. First, cut your stale bread into cubes and place in a large pot. This is a great job for the kids who are skilled with the knife as well as littles who can tear bread into pieces. Second, reserve the turkey neck from the turkey and prepare a broth as well as the meat from the neck. Technically, this step can be eliminated if you want to use already prepared broth and don’t mind skipping the turkey meat in the recipe. Additionally, sauté your onions, celery, and mushrooms in butter to soften and draw out their flavor.
Putting it all Together
Now you have all your pieces ready to assemble. Sprinkle the bread cubes with poultry seasoning and stir. Add the sautéd vegetables, turkey meat, olives, chestnuts, and parsley. Stir. In a separate container, add the milk, broth, egg, salt, and pepper and mix. Add to the bread mixture and you are ready to either stuff your bird or bake in a casserole dish. If you do plan on stuffing your bird, just be sure not to overstuff the bird, allowing for airflow, and make sure you roast it long enough that the internal temperature reaches 165° F on an instant-read thermometer.
- 1 large loaf of sourdough bread, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 heaping tablespoon poultry seasoning
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 10 mushrooms, sliced thin
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 can of water chestnuts, drained and chopped
- 1 can black olives, drained and chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley
- 1 stick butter
- 1 egg
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup turkey broth if stuffing in bird and 2 cups if baking in a casserole dish.
- turkey neck, boiled (reserve the broth and cooked meat)
- sea salt & fresh ground pepper
Boil the neck of a turkey in about 4 cups of filtered water to soften the meat on the neck and create a turkey broth for about 2 hours. Add water if needed. You will want to end up with 2 cups of broth.
Dice up bread into cubes and sprinkle with the poultry seasoning.
Saute the onions, celery, and mushrooms in butter until softened and fragrant.
Add the olives, water chestnuts, turkey meat, and sautéd vegetables to the bread and stir well.
Whisk together milk, broth, eggs, and salt and pepper to taste and pour over the bread mixture and stir.
At this point, you can either stuff your bird or place it in a casserole dish and bake it in a 350° F oven for 35 minutes to an hour covered and 10 minutes uncovered.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff…That is the Question
Technically, is it really stuffing if you are not stuffing it into a bird? And nowadays, dressing is what you pour over a salad. So…what is it? Stuffing or dressing? With the debate over whether or not to stuff your bird, my favorite sage & chestnut sourdough stuffing recipe is going through somewhat of an identity crisis. Here are a few reasons I have found why you are encouraged not to stuff your bird:
- You could get salmonella poisoning
- It increases the cooking time on the turkey
- It produces a drier bird because it steals all the juices
- Your stuffing can turn more gummy
- If you overstuff the bird it will not cook properly
- You rob yourself of the opportunity of filling the cavity with aromatics such as citrus, herbs, and onions which produce a delicious gravy
Personally, I think stuffing baked inside the turkey is much more flavorful than baked in a pan, but then again, I don’t really give a hoot about the turkey. I am all about the stuffing, the cranberry hibiscus sauce, and the leftover turkey sandwich the day after while setting up the Christmas tree. Yes, my turkey sandwich is piled high with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and even a smidge of turkey. So, the answer we have gravitated to is cooking it outside the bird in a casserole dish and then just pouring on the gravy at dinner time. Furthermore, I am still going to call it stuffing. After all, the turkey may not be stuffed before dinner, but this “turkey” is definitely stuffed with this stuffing after the Thanksgiving meal.