New York Times' Eric Kim solves the stuffing debate with this traditional dish
Whether you call it dressing or stuffing, Eric Kim has a recipe for your Thanksgiving table he thinks will steal the show.
Kim, a cooking writer for the New York Times Food section and Atlanta native, spent weeks researching the regional differences in the bread-based holiday side. This isn't his first foray into making stuffing for the vaunted publication, but it is his most traditional stab yet.
Last year, Kim developed a recipe for a cheesy pizza-like stuffing. As a young food writer (but one who's been cooking since he was a kid), he imagined putting his own mark on an iconic holiday dish. That's not precisely how it all went down.
"What I didn't realize was how many Americans view that holiday as something very rigid," he said.
Though many of the commenters appear to love the recipe, Kim said others were not so charitable.
"They're like, 'Why would we put tomato and cheese in our stuffing?'" he said. "'Bring back the sage and onion.'"
But Thanksgiving stuffing need not adhere to so many rules, said Kim, who refers to himself as a "Roomba" when he's developing recipes. That's to say he picks up a little bit of everything. In his work to find a more traditional stuffing, he nodded to traditions from all over the country. He even developed a flavor that nods to Stove Top Stuffing, which has become the gold standard in many a household.
"I've always been interested in American foodways, so this year I cooked through 20 different stuffing recipes and many of them break the rules if there are rules," he said. "My point here is to distill that information and to tell the story of stuffing."
For example, the inclusion of cornbread nods to the dressing usually found on Southern tables. Cornbread alone can turn mushy, so to solve the texture problem, Kim incorporated cubes of firm sourdough. The result is a bit of a hybrid stuffing with plenty of structure and a toasty-sweet flavor. It's the best of both worlds.
Another element that nods to the South is plenty of butter and poultry seasoning. Fennel seeds add the flavor of the sausage typical in Southern dressing, without adding the meat itself.
STUFFING VS DRESSING:What's the difference? It depends on who you ask
"I really optimized for flavor, and the end result is a vegetarian stuffing, which I didn't mean to do," Kim said.
But it's hardly austere, especially with the addition of milk, which provides richness.
The sage and onion? It's in there, too.
Read more about the recipe below in Kim's words.
Eric Kim's Thanksgiving Stuffing
Recipe: Eric Kim/The New York Times Cooking
Image: Christopher Testani for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.
This deeply savory, buttery sage stuffing builds layers of flavor with each step. First, whole sage leaves fry in melted butter for a pretty garnish that offers pleasurable crispy bits. The butter ends up browned, nutty and infused with the herb’s woodsy aroma, and helps chopped sage, fennel seeds, poultry seasoning and cayenne bloom for a fragrant blend that tastes like sausage. Milk in place of watery boxed stock means there’s a base of richness that only dairy can provide. The combination of white bread and cornbread results in a classic but amped-up Thanksgiving stuffing with textural integrity and a hint of sweetness to boot.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
- 8 ounces crusty white bread, such as country loaf or sourdough, cut into ½-inch dice (about 6 cups)
- 8 ounces store-bought or homemade cornbread, cut into ½-inch dice (about 3 cups)
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 10 fresh sage leaves, plus ⅓ cup coarsely chopped sage (¾ ounce)
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt-free poultry seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
- 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
- Salt and black pepper
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced
- 2 cups whole milk, plus more as needed
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread all the bread cubes on a large sheet pan and bake until brittle, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely on the pan. (The cooled bread can be stored in an airtight container for up to five days.) Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Dip a wadded-up paper towel into the melted butter and grease a 1½- to 2-quart shallow baking dish or pan with it. Unwad the paper towel and line a plate with it. Add the whole sage leaves to the butter and cook, stirring occasionally, until the speckled milk solids at the bottom of the pan start to brown and the sage leaves become crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the sage to the paper towel-lined plate.
Add the chopped sage, fennel seeds, poultry seasoning and cayenne to the browned butter and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the onion and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the celery and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk and heat until steaming. Taste and add salt and pepper; the milk should be assertively seasoned.
Transfer the toasted bread cubes to a large bowl. Pour the hot milk mixture over the bread and gently toss with two spoons until the bread is thoroughly soaked; add more milk if needed. Spread the stuffing in the buttered baking dish and cover with foil. Bake until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes. Uncover and bake until the top is crispy and a little darker in color, about 10 minutes. Scatter with the fried sage leaves and serve.