Fred Thompson: Cornbread, Apple, and Sausage Dressing

Fred Thompson's 250 SidesEnjoy Fred Thompson’s recipe for a special dressing concoction that is perfect for the holidays or any time of the year.

From Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides: 250 Dishes That Really Make the Plate. Copyright © 2012 by Fred Thompson.

Cornbread, Apple, and Sausage Dressing

This exquisite dressing first started to take shape during my early years of culinary exploration. I decided to cook a goose for Christmas Eve and found a recipe in the Silver Palate Cookbook that suggested stuffing the goose with a mixture of sausage and rye, wheat, and French bread. Over the years, that recipe has morphed into this family favorite. Don’t save it just for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s good with all poultry and pork. It reheats beautifully and makes one hell of a lunch. Be sure to cook your cornbread at least 1 day in advance to let it dry out. That way, it will hold up better and have a more pronounced flavor. And no instant cornbread mixes, thank you very much.

Cornbread, Apple, and Sausage Dressing (photo by Fred Thompson)

Serves 12 or more

2 pounds country sausage with sage (most farmstand sausages have enough sage)
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 tart apples, like Granny Smith, cored and cut into chunks
9 cups cornbread, broken into 1-inch chunks
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried sage
1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 cups dried sweetened cranberries
Vegetable cooking spray
1 cup (or more) turkey or low-sodium chicken broth

1. Break up the sausage in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. As the sausage cooks, continue to crumble it with a wooden spoon. Cook until the sausage is browned, 7–10 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pan, leaving the fat, and place the sausage in a very large mixing bowl.

2. Increase heat to medium high. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Pour the onions and sausage fat into the bowl with the sausage. Return the pan to the heat and melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter stops foaming, add the apple. Reduce heat to medium and cook slowly until the apples are slightly soft, about 10 minutes. Add this mixture to the sausage and onions.

3. Add the cornbread a handful at a time to the bowl, mixing after each addition. Stir in the thyme, sage, parsley, and cranberries.

4. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

5. Spray a 15×17-inch casserole with vegetable spray. Pour the mixture into the casserole. Cut the remaining butter into small pieces and dot the dressing with them. I have been known to use duck fat in place of the butter. Pour 1 cup of broth over the dressing. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Every 10 minutes, add a little broth and a little butter and stir to keep the dressing moist. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Fred Thompson is a food, wine, and travel writer and is publisher of Edible Piedmont. In addition to Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides, he is author of ten other cookbooks, including Barbecue Nation: 350 Hot-off-the-Grill, Tried-and-True Recipes from America’s Backyard and The Big Book of Fish and Shellfish: More than 250 Terrific Recipes. He is the Weekend Gourmet columnist for the Raleigh News and Observer.