Bread & Sage Dressing

Thanksgiving Dinner. 3 days away. You can totally do this.

So far we’ve covered the basics…the Idiot-Proof Turkey, the Drunken Cranberries and the oh so lovely Sweet Potato Casserole.

We even have options for vegetables with Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots although you can clearly see that I opted for the good old standby of canned green beans cooked with onions and bacon.

So all that remains is dressing/stuffing and gravy. Oh yes, we must have gravy.

As I mentioned in the turkey post, I prefer my dressing/stuffing to be cooked outside of the turkey so that it gets all nice and crispy on top.

This isn’t fancy dressing at all – there are lots of good recipes out there for cornbread dressing, dressing with wild mushrooms, dressing with sausage – but this is really good, old fashioned bread and sage dressing. It’s the dressing that my grandma used to make. It’s the dressing my mom makes. Therefore, it’s the dressing I make.

Thanksgiving is all about family tradition. I’ve added carrots to my dressing, but otherwise everything is the same as Mom and Grandma used to make.

Here’s what you need:

Bread*, Onion, Celery, Carrots, Chicken Broth (low sodium), butter, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt & pepper.

Click HERE for a Handy-Dandy Shopping List

Let’s talk about bread….I like to use a variety of bread. In fact, I start saving the ends and little leftover unwanted bread pieces in a zipper bag in the freezer months before Thanksgiving. I also like a combination of white and wheat bread. Sometimes there is even a piece or two of rye or pumpernickel in the mix.

If you don’t have a weird assortment of bread in your freezer, you can simply buy a loaf of white and a loaf of wheat and use 1/2 of each.

The bread needs to be dried out or somewhat stale for the best dressing. You can either leave your bread out, unwrapped for couple of days OR put it in the oven on low (about 175 to 200 degrees at the most) to dry it out. The oven method will take about 45 – 60 minutes.

We don’t want it totally crunchy like croutons or toast, just more dry than wet so that it can absorb all the good chicken broth and flavors that we are going to add.

I have about 20 slices of bread total. This will make a full 9 x 13 inch pan of dressing.

Once the bread is feeling dry or stale, rip it into small bite-sized pieces.

To add extra good flavor and a bit of crunch to the dressing, we are going to gently saute 1 medium chopped onion, 1 cup of chopped carrots, and 2 cups of chopped celery. Be sure to use some of the leaves of the celery for added flavor.

To be honest, I never really measure the veggies….just go with what looks good to you. I have 1 medium onion, 3 medium sized carrots and about 4 big ribs of celery with their leaves. Chop them all up into small pieces. Nothing fancy.

Melt 4 Tablespoons of butter in a large pan over medium heat, add the veggies and cook gently until they are tender but not browned. This takes about 10 minutes.

When the veggies are tender and translucent (shiny), add them to the big bowl of bread. This is going to continue to cook in the oven so it’s okay if the veggies are still a bit crunchy.

To add more great flavor, season the dressing mixture with about 1 Tablespoon of dried Rosemary and 1 Tablespoon of dried Thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Next is the Sage – the star of the show.

You can use fresh or dried sage. I actually prefer dried because it combines well with the other dried herbs we’re using. I have some sage that I’ve dried myself (in a semi-Martha Stewart moment) and also some sage from the store.

If you are buying sage at the store, look for LEAF Sage or RUBBED Sage. They are both much closer to the actual texture of a real sage plant. If all you can find is GROUND Sage – which looks like powder, that’s okay, but use MUCH LESS as it is very strong and will quickly overpower all of the other ingredients.

I like the flavor of sage so I add about 4 Tablespoons of Rubbed or Dried Sage. If you’re unsure, you might want to start with less and taste/smell it as you go. You can always add more later before baking the dressing.

Now we want to rehydrate the dried bread with good quality, low sodium chicken broth.

Pour in about a cup of broth, give everything a stir and add more broth. I used about 2 cups of broth total but you might need a little more or less depending on the dryness of your bread.

Give the bread a quick squeeze…you want it moist but not dripping wet with broth. If you’re unsure, it’s better to use more broth than less. You really can’t screw this up with too much broth, it will just need a little more cooking time to get crispy. Err on the side of moistness over dry dressing.

Spray a large baking dish (mine is 9 x 13 inches) with non-stick cooking spray and pour the dressing mixture into the dish.

This is another great DO AHEAD recipe. You have a few options about baking…

Option #1 – you can stop at this point, cover with foil and keep this in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. You can even do this a day ahead.

Option #2 – you can bake this 1/2 way (about 30 minutes) then let it hang out and after you’ve cooked the turkey, pop this back in the oven for another 30 minutes to finish baking and re-heat.

Option #3 – you can bake this ahead completely and then reheat in a warm oven before serving.

I’ve used all 3 methods. My favorite is Option #2. It allows for getting the preparation and cooking of the dressing out of the way early in the day but because you’ve only cooked it 1/2 way, it won’t dry out when you finish cooking and reheating it later.

Bake  the dressing UNCOVERED at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes total, until the top is slightly crispy and golden brown.

Your Grandma would be proud.

Here’s the recipe:

Sage Dressing

Gravy step-by-step coming next. I think Gravy deserves it’s own post. Don’t you?

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