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Mushroom skillet stuffing at lynnecurry.com.

Get the Lowdown on Breads for the Most Spectacular Stuffing

Thankful as I am all year long for the plentitude of good bread, I am especially grateful when it comes time to make stuffing, one of my favorite Thanksgiving side dish. {Okay, I truly love them all.} With its tender broth-soaked chunks of bread, herbs and onions, stuffing is the flavor center point of the meal.

A lot of stuffing suffers from being too dry or too soggy. For me, the ideal is intensely flavorful, light but not crumbly, moist but not dense. And loads of crispy bits on the top.

As the body of the stuffing, bread is preeminent, so I experimented with the whole range of options, from stuffing mix and sliced sandwich breads to in-store bakery breads and artisan-made sourdoughs.

Mushroom skillet stuffing at lynnecurry.com.

It’s no surprise that the best-tasting stuffing comes from good-quality bread. Stuffing mix is stale tasting and crumbly. Sandwich bread, supported by a host of herbs, tastes alright, but turns limp. Your best choice is any firm-textured bread, like a white Pullman loaf, and crusty artisan-style loaves, preferably from your favorite bakery, that maintains its great taste and stand-up texture.

What About Rye, Multigrain & Sourdough

Not to overlook a whole family of dark breads, you can also use whole wheat, whole grain and a range of ryes. The nutty flavors of whole wheat and multigrain bring a welcome dimension to the stuffing and can be used wholesale in place of white.

Rye and pumpernickel are overbearing on their own, but the tricolor stuffing I made using one part dark rye, one part multigrain and two parts sourdough bread is handsome and tasty, especially good with mushrooms.

Cornbread is the only wild card. Because it is not a yeasted bread, it crumbles and makes a cakey stuffing. Much more to my northern tastes, I discovered a 50/50 mix of cornbread and white bread that works best.

Mushroom skillet stuffing at lynnecurry.com.

When it came to handling the bread, I did borrow something from stuffing mixes. The rough-torn shape was exactly what I wanted, not uniform cubes that are like eating softened croutons.

To make them, slice whole loaves into 1/2-inch slices and then rip them into bite-sized pieces, about the same size you would feed to ducks. Fresh or day-old bread is easiest to tear and still fresh-tasting. Just spread the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until crispy.

More Stuffing to Try

To be honest, I love variety, but my go to remains the traditional herb stuffing. This year, I’m loading it with mushrooms and baking it in a 12-inch cast iron pan so that it has a high ratio of those crispy bits.

If you can get your hands on any wild mushrooms–chanterelle, porcini, hedgehog or lobster mushrooms–this stuffing will let them shine and stretch their flavors. When I don’t have access to anything wild, I dip into my precious supply of porcini mushroom powder. This stuff is the money for adding more complex flavors to pasta sauces, gravies and this mushroom stuffing.

The fresh herbs buoy their flavors and are, to me, what makes stuffing so good. Well, that and all that crispy bread.

If you’re up for adventure, here are two of my other stuffings to try, now being featured {without credit, alas} on the Oregonian’s Ultimate Thanksgiving Guide:

If You’re Going to Stuff the Turkey

When stuffing is baked in a dish it’s technically called dressing, and it’s the only way to get the crunchy top we love. It’s also the safest way to prepare it.

Stuffing the turkey has the potential for salmonella unless you take all three of these precautions:

  1. Make sure the stuffing is hot before you spoon it into the bread cavity.
  2. Do not over-pack it.
  3. Use an instant-read thermometer to ensure that the stuffing reaches a temperature of 165 degrees F before serving.

Whatever and wherever you eat this year, I hope you have the best Thanksgiving. And that if you’re cooking, a grateful guest steps in to do the dishes.

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Mushroom & Fresh Herb Skillet Stuffing

This mushroom-rich stuffing relies on excellent quality bread, good chicken stock and fresh herbs. It is moist on the bottom and crispy on the craggy top. You can even prepare it one day in advance and give the bread time to absorb all of those flavors. If you don't have a large enough skillet, use your widest baking dish.

Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings 8 people
Author Lynne Curry

Ingredients

  • 1 10-ounce loaf 10 slices firm-textured artisan sourdough bread
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided pastured
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, quartered or into sixths, if large
  • 2 tablespoons dried porcini mushroom powder optional
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
  • ½ cup packed finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock ideally homemade

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Tear the bread, crusts and all, into bite-sized piecess. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet in a single layer and toast in the oven for 15-18 minutes, turning once, until crisp but not browned. Set aside to cool.

  2. Meanwhile, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. When it foams, add the onion, celery and garlic and cook at a steady simmer until they are softened, about 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms, mushroom powder (if using) and 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the mushrooms release all of their juices , about 10 minutes. Transfer all the butter and vegetables into a large mixing bowl and let them cool for 10 minutes.

  3. Add the toasted bread to the mixing bowl, along with the parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary, plus the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss to combine all the ingredients and coat the bread with the melted butter. 

  4. Pour in 2 cups of the stock and stir. stir into the stuffing just enough to blend all the ingredients well. If you prefer a moister stuffing, continue adding more stock 1/2 cup at a time to get to the texture you prefer. (Because I like a moister stuffing, I use all 3 cups.)

  5. Transfer the stuffing back into the skillet without packing it down densely. Dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. (If making ahead, cover and store it in the refrigerator until ready to bake.)

  6. To bake, place stuffing into the oven at 375 degrees F. Bake uncovered until the top is nicely browned, about 45 minutes.

Recipe Notes

If replacing the fresh herbs with dried, cut the amounts for each in half.

For a vegetarian version, replace the chicken stock with an equal amount of vegetable stock or even a homemade mushroom stock using the stems and an extra 2 tablespoons of dried mushroom powder.

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