I’ve been making Cornbread Sausage Stuffing with Leeks, Pecans, and Dried Cranberries for nine years. Every. single. year. Without fail. Always for Thanksgiving and sometimes for Christmas too. Okay, and really, sometimes I make it during the summer just because I can and twice a year doesn’t seem like enough.
Also, I need to mention, because I’m so proud of myself, that I have perfected the gluten-free aspect of it. So well, in fact, that I usually don’t mention that tidbit until after people have eaten it. Not to trick them, but just to show them (my husband being one) that gluten-free is not always synonymous with cardboard. (Sometimes it is, it’s true.) I’ve included those small changes in the recipe below.
So, let’s talk about the goodies in the stuffing. I like it to be about half goodies, half cornbread. There is a ton of onions and celery and fresh herbs, but I always add in leeks (because I love them), dried cranberries for a little sweet-tart component, and the nuts for crunch. There have been years when I’ve left out the sausage and had a riot on my hands. So there’s sausage in it and plenty of it!
I started making homemade sausage from lean ground pork to cut down on some of the fat. (I’m still tweaking my recipe, but I’ll share it when it’s perfect.) I often just use whole milk instead of the half and half. It doesn’t really need it. And I use about half as much butter, if I use it at all. If there’s enough fat from the sausage, I use that instead.
It’s ideal to make this stuffing the night before. If you have a large enough fridge, or it’s cold enough outside, that’s not a problem. Just add a little extra liquid so it’s not too dry. The flavors meld a little better, but it’s really good even without sitting overnight. The texture is almost like bread pudding. It’s eggy and rich. We always cook some in a smaller, separate pan so we can dig in before dinner. Yeah, we’re like that.
Cornbread Sausage Stuffing with Leeks, Pecans, and Dried Cranberries
adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated
MAKES ABOUT 12 CUPS, SERVING 10 TO 12+
Notes: This recipe makes about 16 cups of crumbled cornbread, you will only 3/4 of the recipe for the stuffing. In this recipe, the stuffing is baked outside of the turkey in a baking dish. To make the stuffing a day in advance (I recommend), increase both the stock and half-and-half by ¼ cup each and refrigerate the unbaked stuffing 12 to 24 hours. Before transferring to baking dish, let the stuffing stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until stuffing loses its chill.
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 1/3 cups milk
2 cups yellow cornmeal, preferable stone-ground
2 cups all-purpose flour (see below for gluten-free substitutions)
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 cups homemade turkey or chicken broth or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups half-and-half (or whole milk)
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, plus extra for greasing baking dish
1 ½ pounds bulk pork sausage (not breakfast sausage), broken in 1” pieces
3 medium onions, chopped fine (about 3 cups)
3 stalks celery, chopped fine (about 1 ½ cups)
2 leeks, thinly sliced, washed well
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup roughly chopped pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9” by 13” baking dish with butter.
2. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl; whisk in the buttermilk and milk.
3. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour the egg/milk mixture into the well. Stir with a whisk until just combined. Stir in the butter.
4. Pour batter into the greased baking dish. Bake until the top is golden brown and the edges have pulled away form the sides of the pan, 30 to 40 minutes.
5. Transfer the baking dish to a wire rack and cool to room temperature before using, about 1 hour. Cut the cornbread into 1″ cubes and spread in an even layer on 2 baking sheets. Place in a 250 degree oven for 50-60 minutes, or until dried out and evenly toasted. (I usually pull the pans out and turn the cornbread over for even toasting.)
1. Place the cornbread in a large bowl (the larger the better—the huge Tupperware works well). Whisk together stock, half-and-half, and eggs in a medium bowl. Pour over cornbread and toss VERY gently just to coat—try not to break the cubes into smaller pieces. Set aside.
2. Heat a heavy-bottomed 12” skillet over med-high heat, until hot. Add 2 Tbsp. butter and swirl to coat pan. When foaming subsides, add the sausage and cook until it loses its raw color, about 5-7 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a medium bowl. Add about half the onions and celery to the fat in the skillet; saute, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer onion mixture to the bowl with the sausage. Return the skillet to the heat and add the remaining 6 Tbsp. butter, when the foam subsides, add the remaining celery, onions, and leeks. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme, sage, and garlic; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds; add the salt and pepper. Add this mixture along with the sausage and onion mixture and the cranberries and pecans to the cornbread and stir gently to combine so that cornbread does not break into smaller pieces. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate to blend flavors, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.
3. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 10” by 15” baking dish (or 2, 9” square or 7 by 11” baking dishes). Transfer the stuffing to the baking dish; pour any liquid accumulated in the bottom of the bowl over the stuffing and, if necessary, gently press the stuffing with a rubber spatula to fit it into the baking dish. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.
*To make this gluten-free use 1 cup brown or white rice flour, 1/2 cup sorghum flour, 1/2 cup tapioca starch, and 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum. Alternatively, you can use your favorite all-purpose GF flour. If it doesn’t contain a gum, add 1/2 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum.