The basic ratio for custard makes your holiday dressing. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

The basic ratio for custard makes your holiday dressing. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

I stopped stuffing our Thanksgiving turkey reluctantly, as the stuffing was always my favorite part of the meal when Grandma Spamer made it. But my goal became a perfectly cooked bird, and you can’t cook a turkey perfectly if it’s stuffed. So now I make what we must refer to as dressing, no matter what Mario says (“That’s what you put on a salad.”). Dressing denotes that it’s stuffing cooked in a pan.

And it can still be the very best part of the meal! Thanks to a versatile ratio, it’s a no brainer. Dressing, and there are infinite variations, is little more than a savory bread pudding. To make a great dressing you make the liquid a custard, the ratio for which is 2 parts liquid and 1 part egg, here 24 ounces stock (flavor!) and 12 ounces (6) eggs. The rest is the flavoring.

Here I use leeks and sage, and nothing more. Simple. But feel free to improvise: add sautéed mushrooms, celery (sweated with the leeks), replace the leeks with onion, or fennel, add chestnuts. Or swap in a cup of white wine for the stock. There’s no limit to what you can do with a dressing like this, provided you use a good flavorful custard.

A secret I don’t usually mention: before serving, I spoon some sizzling hot turkey fat over the dressing to make sure it’s truly succulent and tastes like my dear Grandma Spamer’s.

Holiday Dressing

Ratio: 2 parts liquid: 1 part egg

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 4 fat leeks, thinly sliced and thoroughly rinsed of all dirt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups turkey stock
  • 8 cups cubed white bread (1 large loaf sourdough or country  bread)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F/190°C.
  2. In a large sauté pan over medium heat melt the butter, then sweat the leeks and add the minced sage and thyme. Season with 2 four-finger pinches of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Combine the eggs and the turkey stock and whisk or blend to combine.
  4. Combine the sautéed leeks, bread, custard (eggs and turkey stock), and parsley. Toss and set aside for 10 or 15 minutes, pressing down on the bread so that it absorbs the custard.
  5. Butter a baking dish or a cast iron skillet, and pour in the stuffing. Dot the top of the stuffing with extra butter. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 30 minutes; uncover and bake until golden, 15 to 30 more minutes.


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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.



24 Wonderful responses to “Thanksgiving Dressing”

  • velpew

    As a kid in Tennessee, I never knew that anyone stuffed the turkey and so it was always turkey and dressing. And, it was always cornbread dressing. You have to cook your cornbread (real cornbread, not that sweet cakey stuff) a few days ahead so its stale.

  • zalbar

    I’d be adding ground pork, slivered almonds, and raising to that…mebbe capers.

  • JenRaj

    Can you please explain why “you can’t cook a turkey perfectly if it’s stuffed?” I’m panicking!

    • Robert

      You need to get the stuffing up to a specific temperature to make it safe to consume. That temperature, and the length of time it takes to get there, overcooks the rest of the turkey.

    • ruhlman

      Because in order for the stuffing to get hot, 160f at least, you have to cook the breast till it’s much hotter than that

  • allen

    Turkey schmaltz, I remember the Baron Von Schmaltz saying in your video clip of her, that if turkey or geese were readily available during that time, they would have used them for schmaltz.

    It makes everything taste better. Can’t wait to try it on dressing.

    Curious about turkey griebens, I put the chicken griebens in everything now, hot dogs, salad, side dish. Love them

  • Jennifer

    Do you think this would work with gluten-free bread? They have a really good brand, Udi’s, at Whole Foods lately… I know some of the guests are gluten-free, so that could be a treat.

    • Dave

      I am sure going to try it with Udi’s (BTW – Costco carries their 33 oz. 20 slice commercial-sized loaves now).

      Michael – never thought of stuffing as a custard, but it makes perfectly tasty sense. Any idea how many servings this recipe makes? I need to serve a group of 8. Thanks!

  • Jay

    What’s your feeling about the addition of oysters and/or sausage to the dressing mix?

  • Xani

    I’m making a “Pastrami on Rye” dressing this year for our Thankgivukkah meal. Dad is making the pastrami and I’ll be using this ratio to create the dressing!

  • John

    I want to make oyster dressing. Is it as simple as adding oysters (whole or chopped?) to the recipe?

  • Laura Jane

    I’m not in charge of the stuffing for Thanksgiving (and it is indeed stuffing in our family, not sure I could sell anyone on changing that as long as I am not the boss). I did, however, get a giant squash in my CSA yesterday that I hear is great stuffed and baked, so I will give this a whirl with that. With some sausage, because pig makes everything better.

  • rainey

    Can this be done a day ahead? I have serious oven real estate problems on T-day.

    If that’s a possibility what do you recommend for reheating it and keeping it warm.

  • MikeA

    What are your thoughts on putting turkey wings on top of the stuffing so the juices from the wings are absorbed into the dressing?


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