Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman


The nice thing about blogging as opposed to newspapering is that I don’t feel the obligation to always come up with a new way of roasting turkey or a new stuffing or a new cranberry sauce or a new kind of gravy. The classics are classics. So, herewith, the way I make “stuffing,” just as good as last year’s.

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: during the cooking and before serving, I spoon some sizzling hot turkey fat over it 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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© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.



12 Wonderful responses to “Holiday Classic: Thanksgiving Dressing”

  • Tom

    Thank you! Sounds wonderful. I put turkey wings on top of my dressing. The fat and collagen contribute to the flavor and structure. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours Michael

  • Guy

    I don’t mean to be a contrarian, but ATK/Cook’s Illustrated figured out that if you pre-heat stuffing, a well-roasted bird is indeed possible. Perfect? I can’t say, but I’ve certainly been fairly successful. From memory, I think they heated the stuffing to 140F before putting it in the turkey.

    • Annie

      I would also say that you can do the reverse as well – cook the stuffed bird to temperature, pull the stuffing out and into a pan, and continue cooking it until it reaches 165°. I love my family’s stuffing no matter where it’s cooked, but I promise that it’s infinitely better tasting when it’s cooked in the bird.

  • Susan B.

    Oops, you did say that. Now I’m scheming how to substitute this recipe for what I face at a Franco-American feast next Saturday. The oysters and champagne are fabulous, but the dressing/stuffing tends to have the texture of desiccated, pellet-y mush. -shudder-

  • Ed

    I gave up on trying to roast the turkey whole anyway a while ago so dressing is the way to go! (Sous vide turkey has now replaced spatchcocked turkey in our house – either is much better than trying to get the Rockwellesq turkey picture).

  • Matto

    Nearly popped a bone looking at this photo. Well done, Ruhlman! Bring back cocktail Friday! It was awesome. But everything you do is awesome.

    Happy Thanksgiving?

  • Dean

    Used the ratio concept and it worked perfectly to make a vegetarian dressing for some Thanksgiving guests. Mixed the eggs with a good, homemade veggie stock, then added it to a mixture of cornbread (NOT from the box), leftover country bread, herbs, and sweated shallots and celery.

    When I bought Ratio a few years ago, wasn’t immediately convinced it would be that handy; but, I use it routinely now. I’ve memorized some like the 3-2-1 pie dough, and now have the custard ratio in my head.

    Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

    • Dean

      BTW – if anyone’s wondering why I posted so early on Thanksgiving, it’s because I made the dressing ahead of time.

  • xeno

    I just want to say, we made this today (we always have Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday because of various work schedules). I added some browned sausage, used onions instead of leeks because I had a ton, and just eyeballed the herbs, so probably 1.5 times the amount. (I assume you never actually measure them either.) I also did it at the same time as some other dishes, so the temp was 350F instead, but it was fine. It is not a fussy dish at all, and turned out fantastic! Adding some of the turkey drippings at the end while browning was a great idea, and really pushed it from good to fantastic.

    It is very much like a savory bread pudding, which is exactly what I’ve always wanted and didn’t even realize it!

  • Kate

    Holy cannoli. I was unexpectedly on my own for Thanksgiving and was piecing together recipes, and this recipe was amazing!! I know this is total sacrilege, but this really does taste like the box “who shall not be named”, without all of those hard to pronounce “is that really food” ingredients that stop me from caving and making it even in a pinch. A keeper, for sure. Thank you for making my solo holiday still feel special.


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