Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Classic Recipe Corner: Sage and onion stuffing

I’d love to preface this post with some beautiful shots of a freshly roasted chicken, perhaps some artfully strewn herb sprigs, a potato or two. But I can’t because, er, I forgot. Here, instead, is a view of Harewood House, taken while walking this Sunday. This was shortly before the start of the whingeing, the huffing up hills like The Little Engine That Could and the water bottle leaking all over my arse. It’s pretty though, bathed in the late autumn sunshine, and I love the fact that it is, literally, minutes outside of Leeds and yet almost convinces as a rural idyll.

It is to my great shame that up until a few years ago the only sort of sage and onion stuffing to ever grace my Sunday table was made by Mr Paxo. Paxo stuffing has a lot to recommend it, not least the fact that it is unquestionably a taste and smell of childhood. OK, it looks a little bit like the contents of a Hoover bag in its natural state, but I considered it as quintissentially Sundayish as The Archers.

I can’t remember why I decided to make a fresh stuffing, on a complete whim, for Christmas dinner a couple of years ago. Maybe I was feeling particularly Domestic Goddess-ey that day.
Edited to add: the idea originally came from my brother, D2 and sister in law who are roast dinner experts of the first order.

Anyway, make it I did from a completely traditional Mrs Beeton recipe and it was so glorious that it has appeared regularly on the table ever since, most recently this last Sunday, and yet never reared its head on the blog.

I love a roast dinner and it is possible to have a heaped plateful for a (relatively) reasonable number of points. Roast potatoes for example. I use just a tablespoon of oil for two people, cooling the parboiled potatoes and then tossing them in the (also cold) oil before putting them in the oven. It’s a contentious way of doing it, but I find it gives excellently crispy results and means you can control (and limit) the amount of fat you are adding. Meanwhile the volume on the plate which we all crave from a proper Sunday lunch can easily be created by piles of veg – carrot and ginger mash is a particular favourite of mine, zero points apart from a scant knob of butter tossed through at the end to add richness.

At 4pps, the stuffing is one of the pointier aspects but well worth it. Still, you could halve the portion and still have a dollop of lovely, herby deliciousness. Then, you could have the rest of it smeared all over your cold cut sandwich the next day.


100g sliced white bread, ideally slightly stale (crusts removed)
4 x onions, peeled and halved
10 (roughly) largeish sage leaves
40g butter
1 medium egg yolk
Salt, pepper

Serves 4, 4 pro points per portion

You will need a little blitzer, a large saucepan, a bowl, a slotted spoon and a spoon for mixing.

Fill the pan with cold water, place in the onion halves and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the pan to the boil and then simmer for five minutes. This will take the raw tang out of the onions and leave them sweetly flavoursome for the stuffing.

Meanwhile, place the bread in the blitzer and whizz into fine crumbs. Transfer to the waiting bowl.

When the onions have had their required bath, remove to the blitzer using a slotted spoon. Put the sage leaves in the still simmering water for around 30 seconds – again, just to take the raw taste off. Transfer these to the blitzer with the onions and whizz into a greenly speckled, savoury paste.

In the same pan, over a gentle heat, put the butter on to melt.

Remove the pan from the heat and tip in the breadcrumbs, the onion paste, the egg yolk and more seasoning than you think you need and stir briskly to combine.

Bake alongside the joint – I use disposable foil trays. The top will brown but the inside will remain much more yielding than packet stuffing. Serve alongside roast chicken and all the trimmings.


  1. Moonface & Silky5 November 2013 at 19:55

    How about an acknowledgment for the potato recipe?? You already shamelessly present the sieving technique as your own, and now you're stealing the roast potatoes too.

    As for the stuffing, you know exactly where the idea for non-Paxo based alternative came from!

    1. Dear Moonface and Silky,

      I have NEVER claimed the sieving technique as my own and as for the roasties, I do not believe the patented Murphy method includes adding the cold oil to the cold potatoes but I am prepared to be corrected.

      The stuffing though - mea maxima culpa and I will edit the post accordingly. I owe you both a honey pop cake.

      Dame Washalot

  2. I think Heston was pushing potatoes through sieves before either Moonface or Silky had heard of the Michelin Man.

    Dee Treaux

    1. Moonface & Silky6 November 2013 at 19:24

      I believe Heston recommends a ricer for his potatoes? This is not the same! Anyway, the origins of this sieved recipe pre-date anything to do with Heston, so is an example of convergent evolution, much like birds and bats, but tastier than either.

    2. See page 61 of The Fat Duck Cookbook for more precise instructions on how to make mash. In summary, use ricer or vegetable mill first, then push mash and butter through fine sieve.

      If you're suggesting that your culinary knowledge is as old as Darwin's finches then I shall just smile a knowing smile.

      NB: The finches are an example of divergent evolution, much like humans and bats - which taste completely different. We taste like pigs.


      Dee Treaux

  3. I have reached the age of senility when I want to relive some childhood memories and Sage and Onion Stuffing is high on the list.

    Your recipe sits very close to my memories. Except, they predate things like blitzers and Paxo.

    I have always thought it strange that it is called "stuffing" as I don´t recall ever seeing it served other than in an earthenware pie dish as a separate item in it´s own right.

    No blitzer to make bread crumbs and no handy packets of ready-mades, the bread was sliced and de-crusted then put in a warm place to dry out. (Usually the finished-with oven as it was cooling down). Then "us kids" had great fun using mother´s rolling pin to smash the bread into crumbs.

    The onions were poached in milk with a bay leaf and after draining off the onions the milk went on to make bread sauce or even a béchamel, taking along the flavour of bay and onions (nothing wasted).

    The sage was never cooked but chopped with a tool like a miniature of the device farmers tow behind a tractor to break up the surface of a ploughed field. Four rows of interlaced sharp edged wheels in a square frame with a handle over the top. More fun for the kids and safer than a knife. I have searched the kitchen-ware shops far and wide and have never found another one since I left home sixty years ago.

    I don´t recall seeing egg being added so I shall be trying with and without.

    As far as Paxo is concerned, when it came on the scene one of the family bought a packet thinking to save Mother some work but after tasting a sample the remainder of the packet was consigned to the dustbin. No comparison with freshly made!

    Thanks for helping,
    My Regards.