Roast Chicken with Italian Sausage Stuffing is comfort food

“Wow, this is real comfort food.” With each fork-load of chicken and stuffing that went into his mouth, my husband’s face glowed with a huge, satisfied smile. He was so happy.

It wasn’t just the perfectly-seasoned, deliciously succulent chicken that was making this happy man so satisfied. The stuffing played a major role. He knows how much I dislike stuffing.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, stuffing has been on my mind. I never eat the soggy, sage-flavored goop. I don’t make it, either. Each year on turkey day, my husband rips open a bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb-Seasoned stuffing and makes it for all the stuffing-loving members of our family.

I thought it would be nice to experiment with a more nontraditional stuffing before the big day. Maybe I’d find one I could tolerate, maybe even enjoy, with turkey on Thanksgiving. It would have to be sage-free.

Someone told me once that the best stuffing is made by soaking bread in water and then squeezing it out. I tried that with a loaf of Italian bread that had been sitting on the kitchen counter a little too long. I didn’t like the feel of the mushy bread in my hands. But, I continued on and mixed the soggy bread with ground pork that I had seasoned with fennel, red pepper flakes and parsley and cooked. Tiny cubes of mozzarella cheese, some grated Parmesan and chopped fresh parsley would be an unexpected surprise for those who are used to traditional stuffing.

The stuffing can be baked in a casserole dish. That’s what I did. But, you can definitely stuff it into the chicken, if you’d like.

I stuffed the bird with chunks of onion, lemon and apple and a clove of garlic. Olive oil mixed with half of the seasoning mixture got rubbed into the cavity and under the skin of the chicken.

Chicken, stuffed with apple, onion, lemon and garlic, resting on a rack of carrots and celery, ready to roast.

I must say, the bird was beautiful when I took it from the oven. The taste? Superb.

Lemon slices are barely visible under the skin of the roasted chicken.

The stuffing? In my opinion, it was pretty good. But, according to my stuffing-loving partner, it’s some of the best comfort food he’s ever eaten.

I wonder which stuffing he’ll choose to make on Thanksgiving…

Roast Chicken with Italian Sausage Stuffing


  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 8 ounces dry Italian bread, unsliced
  • 3 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Toast fennel seeds in small, heavy saute pan over medium heat, constantly moving seeds around in pan until they become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately transfer seeds to a small plate to cool. Once cool, grind seeds with dried parsley and red pepper flakes and combine with salt and pepper in small bowl. I use an electric coffee grinder that is reserved for this purpose only. A blender would also work for the task of grinding. Mix half of the seasoning mixture with pork and blend thoroughly. Save remaining seasoning for chicken. Stir the seasoned pork in a skillet over medium heat until brown and completely cooked. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight for flavors to develop.

Cut bread into 5 or 6 large chunks. Soak bread in a large bowl of cold water until saturated. Squeeze out water and crumble bread into a large bowl. Add 1/2 pound of the cooked seasoned ground pork. Refrigerate the remaining 1/2 pound of pork for another use. Add mozzarella cheese cubes, Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley and minced garlic.

Stuffing can be baked inside the cavity of the chicken or in an uncovered lightly greased 1 quart baking dish for 25 minutes, in the same oven as the chicken.


  • 1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken, whole
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 of an apple, seeds removed, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 of a small onion, cut in half
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 carrots, washed
  • 2 ribs celery, washed

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove giblets and neck from chicken. Reserve for another use or discard. Rinse chicken thoroughly under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. With the breast side up and the ends of the drumsticks facing you, gently slide your fingers under the skin of the chicken, separating it from the meat, being careful not to tear the skin. Reach in as far as you can to loosen the skin on the tops of the thighs and legs.

Mix reserved 1/2 of seasoning mixture with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rub inside of cavity of chicken with some of the mixture. Cut 4 thin slices from the lemon. Set the slices aside and cut the remainder of the lemon into chunks. Stuff lemon chunks, apple, onion and garlic into the chicken.

Rub the remaining seasoned olive oil mixture under the loosened skin into the meat. Slide 2 lemon slices onto each breast under the skin. Pat the skin back into place. Tie the legs together with kitchen string. Tuck the wing tips under the shoulders.

Rub the entire bird with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Make a rack in a shallow roasting pan or cast iron skillet of washed carrots and celery placed next to each other in a single layer. Place the chicken on the vegetable rack.

Roast the chicken in preheated oven until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced, about 50 to 70 minutes. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh not touching bone should register 165 degrees. Remove from oven and let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before carving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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