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New England stuffing is a classic Thanksgiving tradition that takes beats the stuffing – so to speak – out of the boxed stuff sold at the supermarket. This recipe actually has three kinds of meat mixed in, but it has a unique flavor you won't forget. It's based on a recipe from Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts, a place famous in New England since the days of the colonies. The recipe for Wayside bread stuffing, meanwhile, was made famous by Vincent Price (the actor – and a true gourmet cook!) in his classic cookbook A Treasury of Great Recipes. In the book, Mssr. Price himself notes, "The Wayside Inn's stuffing using home-baked bread and homemade sausage has an old-fashioned excellence hard to duplicate with store-bought ingredients." It can take some effort to make homemade sausage (see below) and cooked ham and chicken, just to produce the small amounts necessary for this recipe. If you need to make this stuffing faster, just use canned pre-cooked ham and chicken, and store-bought breakfast sausages.
Pans needed: A large cast iron dutch oven, 6 to 8 quarts in size. A large cast iron skillet to cook the meat and vegetables, plus a metal bowl to reserve the meat after cooking. A medium-sized bowl to mix the egg mixture. A large oven-safe cookie sheet or roasting pan to toast the bread cubes…or, you can lay a layer of foil over the oven rack.
Heat oven to 275 degreees Fahrenheit. Cut bread into cubes – large cubes will do fine, you don't have to cut it into tiny cubes. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a large baking sheet or roasting pan, with the crust side down on the surface. Place in oven and toast the bread for 45 minutes at 275 degrees to dry it out. This can be done hours or even a couple of days before making the stuffing. After the bread comes out of the oven, it won't seem as dry and hard as croutons. It's actually not necessary to dry the bread out until it has no moisture at all, though you can dry it completely if you want. All that's necessary is for the bread to be dry enough that it will absorb the stuffing mixture and give a very tasty bread pudding. If the bread needs to be stored for a while, just keep it in sealed plastic containers or bags until it is ready to be used.
The rule to produce a stuffing that isn't too dry or too moist is: equal weights to bread and liquid. For every 8 ounces of stale or oven-toasted bread, use 1 cup (8 ounces) of chicken stock. If you're using something completely dehydrated such as store-bought dried bread mix, croutons or dried stuffing mix, increase the liquid to double the weight of the dried bread: 8 ounces of dried bread will require 16 ounces (2 cups) of liquid.
When it's time to make the stuffing, heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat a large cast iron skillet, ungreased, on medium until hot. Add butter to skillet. Stir until melted. Add chopped onions and celery, and cook over low heat for ten minutes, until the onions are soft and caramelized. Add sausage, diced ham and chicken, and stir fry for 20 to 30 minutes until the sausage is cooked – because sausage needs to be safely cooked before eating. Remove the cooked vegetables and meat to a large metal bowl.
Crack eggs into a separate bowl and lightly beat them. Stir in additional ingredients: chicken stock, sage, pepper, thyme, mace, marjoram, salt. Add the bread cubes to a large cast iron dutch oven. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes, a little at a time, and stir the bread cubes to mix in and absorb all of the liquid. After this, mix in the meat and vegetables. Stir everything together. Cover the dutch oven Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the cover, and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes to bake a crust onto the top of the stuffing.
You can serve the stuffing immediately after removing the dutch oven from the oven.