If you've ever had dry — or worse, soggy — stuffing, you're well aware how crucial the textural interplay between the tender center and crisp, browned edges and top of the casserole is to its success. And really, given stuffing's superiority to most other Thanksgiving dishes, it's crucial to get this right come the fourth Thursday of November, lest the meal be a flop.
Now, here's a surprise: though not conventional, the easiest way to get this right is to use your slow cooker. I could argue for its use based on the boon of freeing up precious oven space during this hectic cooking day, but I think a more compelling argument is how well-suited this appliance is to getting the texture just right. Like with its cousin bread pudding, stuffing made in it turns out just right with minimum fuss.
This otherwise classic sage-and-thyme-enhanced sausage stuffing recipe is a great place to start in your quest for stuffing superiority. I've yet to try this, but I also suspect that other recipes — including your family's go-to — can be converted to a slow-cooker version by cutting back on the liquid in the recipe by 25 percent and cooking for four to six hours on low. (Personally, I'm eager to try this technique out with cornbread stuffing.)
Most slow cookers have a hotter side (typically the back side, opposite the side with the controls) that can cause casseroles to burn. To solve this problem line the slow-cooker insert with an aluminum foil collar. To make the foil collar: Layer and fold sheets of heavy-duty foil until you have a six-layered foil rectangle that measures roughly 16 by 4 inches. (Depending on the width of the foil, you will need either two or three sheets of foil.)
- Vegetable oil spray
- 2 pounds high-quality white sandwich bread, such as Arnold or Pepperidge Farm, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (16 cups)
- 12 ounces sweet Italian sausage, removed from its casing
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 onions, minced
- 3 celery ribs, minced
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage or 2 teaspoons dried
- 2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Line slow cooker with foil collar — press it into the back side of the slow-cooker insert; the food will help keep in place during cooking — and coat with vegetable oil spray. Adjust oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 250°F.
- Spread bread over two rimmed baking sheets and bake, shaking pans occasionally, until edges have dried but centers are slightly moist, about 45 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking. Let bread cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to a very large bowl.
- Brown sausage well in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up large pieces with wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl with dried bread.
- Add butter to sausage drippings left in the pan and melt over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, thyme, and sage and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup broth, scraping up any browned bits; transfer to bowl with bread.
- Whisk remaining 2 cups broth, eggs, salt, and pepper together, then pour over bread mixture and toss gently to incorporate. Transfer to prepared slow cooker. Cover and cook until stuffing is heated through, about 4 hours on low.
- Remove foil collar and let stuffing cool for 10 minutes before serving. (This dish can be held on warm setting for 1 to 2 hours before serving.)
- Side Dishes, Stuffing/dressing
- North American
- 10-12 servings