Why It Works
- Fresh sage and sage sausage add plenty of flavor to the base.
- Dehydrating bread in the oven makes for a better finished texture than simply using staled bread.
I'm generally not too keen on the slow cooker. I know, I know. It keeps you from having to use the other appliances. It's great when you have a small kitchen. It can have a hot meal waiting for you by the time you get home. It keeps your food hot and ready to eat all night. These are all real solutions that a slow cooker provides. The one issue I have with it? It doesn't make the best food. Pretty much anything you can cook in a slow cooker will come out better when cooked with a Dutch oven in the oven.
But there are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and the slow cooker exception is bread pudding. According to Kate Williams, a former Serious Eats contributor and one of the recipe testers behind America's Test Kitchen's Slow Cooker Revolution, the best recipes in that book are the beans and the bread puddings.
Seeing as my classic sage and sausage stuffing is pretty much a savory bread pudding, I figured it was a prime candidate for the slow cooker.
I started by making my standard stuffing base, with sage sausage, onions, celery, garlic, butter, plenty of sage, cubed bread, stock, and eggs. Then, instead of piling it into a casserole to bake, like I normally would, I transferred it all to my slow cooker and set it to cook for a few hours on low heat.
If you try this method at home, when you come back to the slow cooker after those hours are up, the smell will be incredible, but the dish might not be so appealing visually. Because a slow cooker heats from the bottom and traps condensation on the top, the top of your stuffing (or that of any food cooked in a slow cooker, for that matter) will never get brown or crisp. Instead, it'll look like moist, steamed bread.
But appearances can be deceiving, because all around the edges, you'll find some incredible crisp, browned bits, kinda like the crispy socarrat of a good paella. When portioning out your stuffing, just make sure to scrape up around the edges for each serving to give everyone a bit of the good stuff.
So what if you want to use your favorite stuffing recipe in the slow cooker? How would you adapt it? Here are some tips for converting any stuffing recipe for the slow cooker:
- If it does not contain eggs, add one and a half large eggs per loaf of bread used.
- Cut back on liquid by 25%.
- Cook on low heat for four to six hours.
- Make sure to butter the inside of the slow cooker to prevent sticking.
2 1/2 pounds (1.25kg) high-quality sandwich bread or soft Italian or French bread (about 2 loaves), cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 5 quarts)
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick; 4 ounces; 115g), plus more for buttering slow cooker
1 1/2 pounds (680g) sage sausage, removed from casing
1 large onion (about 12 ounces; 350g), finely chopped (about 2 cups)
4 large ribs celery (about 12 ounces; 350g), finely chopped (about 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated on a Microplane
1/4 cup minced fresh sage leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried sage leaves)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, if needed (see notes)
24 ounces low-sodium chicken or turkey broth (3 cups; 720ml), preferably homemade
3 whole eggs
1/4 cup minced parsley leaves, divided
Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper-middle positions. Preheat oven to 275°F (135°C). Spread bread evenly over 2 rimmed baking sheets. Stagger trays on oven racks and bake until completely dried, about 50 minutes total, rotating trays and stirring bread cubes several times during baking. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Turn off oven.
In a large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat until foaming subsides (do not allow butter to brown), about 2 minutes. Add sausage and mash with a stiff whisk or potato masher to break up into fine pieces (largest pieces should be no bigger than 1/4 inch). Cook, stirring frequently, until only a few bits of pink remain, about 8 minutes. Add onions, celery, garlic, and sage and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add half of chicken stock.
Whisk remaining chicken stock, eggs, and 3 tablespoons parsley in a medium bowl until homogeneous. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, slowly pour egg mixture into sausage mixture. Add bread cubes and fold gently until evenly mixed.
Grease the inside of a slow cooker with butter. Transfer stuffing to slow cooker and set to low heat. Cook for 5 hours. Keep warm or sprinkle with remaining parsley to serve.
If desired, dried or fresh fruits and nuts can be folded into the stuffing along with the bread cubes in Step 3. This makes an excellent bird stuffing, producing enough to stuff several small birds or two to three 18- to 22-pound birds.
If using homemade or low-sodium stock, season to taste with salt and pepper before adding.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 10 to 14|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 18g||23%|
|Saturated Fat 9g||45%|
|Total Carbohydrate 76g||28%|
|Dietary Fiber 22g||79%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 20mg||98%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|