Over the years, I’ve written about both traditional turkey dressings and stuffings and not-so-traditional ones. You’ll find those recipes here:
Polenta Stuffing with Pancetta and Sage (This is my favorite of the nontraditional stuffings; I love how it becomes so light and ethereal, almost like a souffle)
Even though I enjoy all these dishes–the polenta is my current favorite–I confess that my personal favorite is quite traditional. It begins with good sturdy sourdough hearth bread from a local bakery. For an 18 to 20 pound turkey, I use two 1-pound loaves. While the bread is still fresh and moist, I tear it into chunks about the size of a ping-pong ball. I spread the bread on something–sheet pans if they are not being using for something else, sheets of wax paper in a pinch–and let it dry over night. Shortly before it is time to put the turkey in the oven, I melt two sticks of good butter in a large deep pan and cook 2 diced onions and about 3 cups or so of diced celery until soft and very fragrant, about 30 minutes on low heat. Then I season the vegetables generously with salt, black pepper and a lot of minced fresh sage. Sometimes I saute 3 or 4 sausages (out of their casings) separately and sometimes I don’t.
When the onions and celery are ready, I put the bread into a large bowl, add the onion mixture and the sausage, if it’s a year for it, taste and correct for salt and spoon it into both cavities of the turkey. (Dressing that doesn’t fit goes into a souffle dish and gets drizzled with a little turkey stock. I put it into the oven about 45 minutes before dinner.) I immediately put the turkey into the oven to roast.
I love the way hearth bread absorbs the juices of the turkey and love, too, the way the sourdough flavors remain pleasingly strong. Because I leave the crusts on the bread and because the bread itself is sturdy, the dressing never gets soggy.