my favourite stuffing

stuffing

I grew up, like most of us did, with stuffing out of a box. I do still have a nostalgic taste for that stuff, but once I tried making my own stuffing I found it hard to go back.

Because the stuff in a box is so common, I always thought that making stuffing must be hard. But it isn’t at all. The recipe below is simple but you can play around with it and add whatever you fancy. Use parsley and thyme instead of, or as well as the sage. Add some crispy fried bacon or pancetta. Use leeks and fennel instead of onions. Use different types or bread. Add nuts. Go mad.

I recently made this to go with a roast dinner when we had friends over. I made the mistake of leaving the dish of stuffing next to the children at the table. Once the adults had finished their dinner, a few went back for seconds – all the stuffing had gone as the children had had thirds of it by then. A sign that I was onto a winner.

Leftover stuffing is glorious on a sandwich or reheated with leftover veg and gravy. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 3 days.

Prep ahead

Buy bread now, rip it into chunks and freeze it then you can grab it out on the day you want to make this. I make a point of never throwing bread away. Any odds and ends of bread get ripped into chunks and added to my bag in the freezer. That way I always have bread to hand to make croutons or to blitz into breadcrumbs when I need them. The nice thing about this is that you’ll probably end up with a  random selection of types of bread chunks – that adds a bit of interest to your stuffing.

If you aren’t yet in possession of a frozen bag of random bread chunks, just buy a loaf of good bread, rip it into thumb sized chunks then leave it to dry out overnight.

The stuffing can be made up until the point where it goes in the over 3 days in advance. Just wrap it tightly so that the flavours don’t taint other food in your fridge. Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days before cooking.

Stuffing ingredients (serves 6 as a side dish)

3-4 fat sausages (around 300g or 10oz) – Buy the best sausages you can find. You get what you pay for and the more flavour they have, the more flavour your stuffing will have. I like the British bangers or Italian sausages from Whole Foods in the US. Or a traditional butchers sausage in the UK.

2 red onions, diced (watch how here)

1 bunch of sage (about 12 leaves)

sea salt and black pepper

2 large eggs

8 handfuls of good bread, ripped into thumb sized chunks (see note above)

500ml (2 cups) of good shop-bought or homemade chicken stock

50g (around 3 tablespoons) salted butter. You can easily double this if you want to.

Optional – 2 eating apples, finely diced or 4 dried figs or 8 dried apricots, finely chopped.

To make

  1. Rip your bread, crusts and all into thumb sized rough chunks and lay them on a baking tray, uncovered for a couple of hours or overnight so that they will dry out. Alternatively, grab bread from your stash in the freezer and leave it to defrost. You want your bread to be dry so that it absorbs the flavours and liquid from the other ingredients. Fresh bread has too much moisture in it already to allow it to suck up the flavour-packed liquid.
  2. Cut the skin on your sausages and squeeze the meat into a pre-heated large non stick frying pan. There is no need to add oil. The sausages should sizzle as they hit the pan. If they don’t, turn up the heat.
  3. Use a spatula to press the sausage meat as flat as you can. It should be as thin and flat as a burger. Doing this increases the surface area so more of the meat gets golden and crispy. Leave it to cook without moving it for around 8 minutes before flipping. Use this time to chop your onions.
  4. Peel and chop your onions into a small dice.
  5. Once your sausage meat is golden on both sides, use a spatula or spoon to break the meat into small chunks – about the size of a blueberry. Add the onion to the pan and continue to cook until the onion is soft, golden and sticky. This should take about 8 minutes on a medium high heat. Stir often to prevent it sticking.
  6. While your onion cooks, chop your sage. Stack the leaves on top of each other, then use a sharp knife to finely slice them into ribbons.
  7. Add your sage to the onions and meat along with a teaspoon of fine grain sea salt and around a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Stir and cook for a minute before turning off the heat.
  8. Scrape the meat mixture into a large bowl then add the bread. Stir well then break in the eggs and stir again. You’ll have a sticky mess, and that’s good. If you’re adding the optional fruit, add it now.
  9. Scrape the mixture into a ceramic or glass oven-proof dish, measuring around 25 x 25cm or 9 inches square – or near enough. I use one that I cook lasagna in. The bigger your dish the more crunch your stuffing will get. I like crunch so I choose a bigger dish.
  10. Pour your cool stock over the mixture and use a spatula to poke it around. The bread will immediately start to soak up the stock. After a few minutes your stuffing will still be very damp. If it is looking dry, add a little more stock. Different bread soaks up liquid differently so I’d err on the side of it being soggy rather than too dry at this stage. The liquid will evaporate in the oven as it cooks. Taste a little bit of the bread and add more salt and pepper if needed. Different sausages and stocks have different flavours so now is the time to balance things out.
  11. Cut your butter into small slices and lay it over the surface of the stuffing. Then cover the stuffing with foil and either store in the fridge for up to 3 days or cook it straight away.
  12. To cook it, put it in a 160°C (320°F) oven for 30 minutes (if it has come out of the fridge, cook for 40 minutes). Then take the foil off and increase the temperature to 220°C (425°F) and leave it to cook for 25-35 minutes or until the top is golden and crunchy and the underneath is soft and a little squidgy.
  13. Take out of the oven and leave to cool for 10-20 minutes before serving. You can leave it for longer if oven space is an issue and serve it at room temperature.