My favorite meal of the year is Thanksgiving, full of traditions, remembrances and great flavors. Some speak of turkey, or the after the meal pie, but to me it’s all about the dressing.
As a small child I had a big part in this Thanksgiving treasure. My job was to pull the bakery bread apart, ever so gently, while watching the Macy’s Day parade on the old black and white Zenith. My favorite giant balloon was Bullwinkle––always the last special parade feature before the big man himself, Santa. It was always worth suffering through the multiple marching bands and the everlasting Santa approved ads, including my favorite, the Norelco electric razor commercials…the perfect “dad” gift.
I thought the bread pulling would go on forever…slice after slice, loaf after loaf. With my older sister yodeling all the while, “Did you wash your paws?” Thinking back, the celery and onions were the first vegetables I was allowed to cut. I remember it well, that old time worn cutting board and using a damp kitchen towel under the board so it wouldn’t dance the Watusi. Then I would sauté the pork breakfast sausage, with its amazing aroma, and break it into tiny morsels using the back of a vintage wooden spoon. Finally, I’d mix everything together with dressing up to my elbows.
I keep the dressing ritual alive each year and incorporate it into what’s become my Thanksgiving holiday tradition. Every year I deliver a complete Thanksgiving dinner––turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, pie and more to my local police department. I’ve been doing it for a long time and while it’s nice for the police it gives a lot back to me. When I walk through the door I see the look of flavorful anticipation on each face and while my heart just grins, my face always smiles. It means so much to me. In fact, this Thanksgiving tradition may have saved me from a few parking tickets, but don’t tell a soul!
Best Thanksgiving Dressing
Approximately 20, 1/2 cup servings
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1-lb bulk pork breakfast sausage
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onions (medium diced)
1-1/2 cups chopped celery (medium diced)
3 Jonathan apples, peeled, cored and diced into ½ inch squares
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt to taste depending on the saltiness of the stock and the pork sausage
4 cups of chicken stock
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 whole eggs
1/2 cup milk
20 cups of cubed dried bakery white bread (crusts removed) I air-dry the bread for 24 hours beforehand
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Using a large skillet, sauté the pork breakfast sausage until well done, and break it into tiny morsels, by using the back of a wooden spoon. When done, remove sausage from pan and reserve. Remove all but 3 tablespoons of drippings from the pan then add olive oil to the same pan. Add the onions and celery and sauté over medium heat until translucent, add the apples, and continue to cook for a few minutes. Add the sage, poultry seasoning and salt and pepper. Add the chicken stock and simmer until the mixture is well heated through. In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk with the parsley. In a large bowl, place the bread cubes and top with the cooked vegetables and stock mixture, mix well, then add the egg, milk and parsley mixture. Toss in the crumbled cooked pork sausage.
Add the mixture into a buttered 4-quart casserole, or large roasting pan, dot with remaining butter. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, then remove the cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes until slightly brown and crispy. Internal temperature should reach 165 degrees before serving.