Cornbread Stuffing

When I was a kid I had an irrational fear of three things: being kidnapped, quicksand and being poisoned.  The first two I blame on Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny cartoons (no, seriously.  Those dang kids in the Mystery Machine were always getting themselves in trouble and would wind up in some haunted mansion tied up and left to fend for themselves and some Warner Bros. character was always either setting a trap over quicksand or falling into a pit of it.  Where I thought I’d find a pit of quicksand in downtown Chicago was beside the point.  As is this lenghty parenthetical, I realize). 

The poisoning was a little more rational, or at least a little more understandable.  My family, coming from an island, always worried about food spoiling if left out too long.  They would also get packages of canned food items from Jamaica like ackee–which were hard to find in New York–and talk of botchulism swirled around my grandmother’s kitchen (unripened ackee can also kill you, so there was that added delight).  I barely understood what they were talking about, but I knew enough to be afraid that one bite of the wrong thing could spell the end of me (dramatic? Me? Never…).

Anytime a turkey was involved the question of whether to put the stuffing inside or bake it separately came up, because stuffing left in the cavity of the bird could spoil, and you guessed it, kill us all.   It was a great debate each year, because the stuffing was more moist if baked inside the turkey, and that, for some reason, seemed worth the risk.  I wasn’t taking any chances, though, so I never ate stuffing unless it was of the Stovetop variety.  I refused to taste it, and truth be told, the texture and mushy look of it (plus the addition of things like giblets) let me know I wasn’t missing anything.

I’m not sure when my boycott against stuffing ended, but a few years ago I found a recipe (in a magazine ad for chicken stock) that sounded too good to pass up.  And it is so delicious that I make extra and freeze it so I can have some on a random Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  The recipe is also super easy, especially if you cheat and use Jiffy cornbread mix instead of making your own.  It’s moist and not the least bit mushy (thanks to the bits of french bread) and since you bake it separately from the turkey, there is no risk of poisoning yourself or your family, which is always a good thing….  Happiest of Thanksgivings to you!

Cornbread Stuffing

  • 8 ounces stale white or French bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into small dice
  • 1 small onion, cut into small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 pound sweet and hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (or 2 tablespoons dried)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 2 tablespoons dried)
  • cornbread (can be made from scratch, but I cheat and use a box of Jiffy cornbread mix.  Prepare cornbread as directed and let cool).

In large bowl, combine the cornbread and white bread cubes and set aside.  In large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat (you can do this part in the microwave).  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the celery and onion, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.  Add the garlic and cook about 3 minutes longer, until the vegetables begin to soften.  Season with salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with the bread.

Heat the remaining oil in the sauté pan over medium high heat.  Add the sausage and cook for 6-8 minutes, breaking it apart with a fork, until lightly browned.  Drain the fat and add the sausage to the bowl with the bread and vegetables.  Stir in sage and thyme.  Begin adding the hot stock, stirring gently, until the stuffing is quite wet (even a little soupy). Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool at room temperature.

Spoon stuffing into buttered casserole, cover and refrigerate.  When ready, bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.  Baste with reserved stock while baking.


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