There’s nothing wrong with plain ‘ol regular stuffing, but if you’re looking for a fun and simple twist (get it, a twist???) on a classic — it’s time to give pretzel stuffing a try.
The first time Jimmy made pretzel stuffing was a few years ago at his grandma’s house in New Jersey; The Original Mart Pretzel is nearby, and it’s a family tradition to stock up on large paper bags full of their thick, twisted soft pretzels while in town. With more soft pretzels on hand than could be eaten in a day starting to harden and go stale, he gave them new life by tossing them with fresh herbs and chicken stock to make a salty, crunchy, deeply satisfying stuffing side dish.
Without a supplier of freshly made Dutch-style soft pretzels in LA, we now use frozen SuperPretzel brand soft pretzels that you can buy in bulk at the grocery store. Because they’re thinner than the Dutch-style pretzels, we use a mixture of frozen soft pretzels and fresh soft pretzel buns to add some textural variety and really soak up the stock and herb flavorings. The soft pretzel buns also do a better job binding the whole mixture together while it bakes.
We also started adding ground sausage to the stuffing (feel free to omit if you’re vegetarian) both for the flavor and to add more texture, and we add a sprinkle of MSG (buy it on Amazon or at most Asian grocery stores) to really bring that umami to the table. Yes, that MSG. And if you balk at the thought of adding MSG to your food, I recommend reading this and then this and encourage you to reconsider that point of view.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve made my favorite addition to the recipe: 2 whole tablespoons of whole grain mustard. What goes better with soft pretzels than mustard??? NOTHING. They are meant to be together. In the context of pretzel stuffing, the whole grain mustard adds a tangy, savory note that compliments the crunchy, salty topping and fresh herb seasoning.
How to make Pretzel Stuffing
The best stuffing starts with day-old or slightly stale bread. Pretzel stuffing is no different. The best stuffing is also hand-torn, rather than cubed, because the more rough edges you have in your stuffing mixture, the more interesting textures and edges you have available for browning and crisping in the oven. The same applies to pretzel stuffing.
Because pretzels have a smooth, shiny crust, you want to expose as much of that soft, absorbent interior as possible. Slice 6 of the 12 pretzels in half like bagels, then tear all the pretzels into bite-sized chunks. Tear or roughly cut the soft pretzel rolls into 1″-2″ pieces.
If you have the time, let the torn pretzel pieces sit out overnight to begin drying out. If you don’t have a day in advance to prepare, bake the pieces on a bare sheet pan in a 250F degree oven for 1 hour, tossing them every 15 minutes.
While the pretzels are drying out, prep the rest of your stuffing accoutrements. Finely mince your carrot(s), onion, and celery. One large carrot will be plenty, but if you want your carrot pieces really finely minced, you can use those bagged “shredded” carrot sticks. You don’t want large carrot or onion chunks competing with the chonky pretzel pieces in the stuffing, so it really is worth the time to get a nice fine mince or small dice here.
When the pretzels are dried and crunchy — almost crouton-like in texture, but with a bit more give to them — transfer them to a large bowl and set aside. Oh, and save yourself some preheating time by immediately increasing the oven temp to 375F to for baking the stuffing later.
Melt 8 TBSP of butter (one full stick) in a medium skillet over medium heat. I know it seems like a lot of butter but it adds a ton of flavor and you need as much liquid as you can get to rehydrate your pretzel pieces later. When the butter is melted and slightly bubbly, add the ground sausage to the pan and cook, using a spoon to break it up into small crumbles.
Once the sausage has mostly cooked through, add the carrots, onion, and celery to the pan and continue cooking until the onions are translucent and golden in color. You don’t want them to brown so if the pan seems to be too hot or the onions take on color quickly, adjust the heat as needed.
Add the veggie-and-sausage mixture to the bowl of pretzel pieces along with the chopped fresh herbs, salt, and pepper and mix to combine. Really mix well — you want the pretzel pieces to start absorbing liquid and flavor and for everything to be evenly distributed.
Selecting the right chicken stock
Chicken stock and chicken broth are similar but slightly different things. Chicken stock — true chicken stock — has a thick, gelatinous consistency when refrigerated, and turns into a thick rich liquid when heated. If you have homemade chicken stock on hand, use that. If you don’t, chicken stock from the grocery store (which is generally more of a broth-y consistency) will still work. It’s just not as good at binding everything together. But that’s why you also add an egg to the mix. The powers of stock and egg combined get the job done.
Pay close attention to the stock steps in the recipe. The ratio of pretzel to stock is important, and since the size of your pretzels or pretzel buns may be different than the ones we used, the stock gets added in two parts. This way you have a chance to evaluate the mixture and decide just how much more it needs (if any).
Start by adding 1 cup of stock along with 2 TBSP whole grain mustard right into the bowl of stuffing. Adding them at the same time helps prevent the mustard from clumping together as you stir. In a separate bowl, beat together one egg with an additional 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock. Then add that mixture to the stuffing and stir again to thoroughly combine. Let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes to rehydrate and absorb all the flavoring.
If after 15-20 minutes, the pretzel pieces still seem hard and brittle, add an additional 1/2 cup stock, stir, and let sit a few minutes longer.
Baking your pretzel stuffing
Thoroughly grease or butter a casserole dish to get that nice crispy stuffing edges, then tightly pack your stuffing into the dish. Use the back of a spoon to gently even out the top.
Sprinkle some generous pinches of salt over the top of the stuffing. If you used frozen pretzels that came with a packet of salt, you’ll probably find you end up using about half of it. It really depends how salty you want your stuffing to be.
Loosely cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Don’t wrap it tightly, because you have to remove it halfway through baking. You just want to shield the top of the stuffing from burning. Bake it at 375F for 20 mins, then remove the aluminum foil, rotate the pan (so that it cooks evenly), and drop the oven temperature to 350F. Bake it for another 20 minutes until it’s browned on top and the liquid has mostly absorbed or evaporated.
Remove the pretzel stuffing from the oven and let it cool in the dish for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Recommended tools for pretzel stuffing
Pretzel StuffingCourse: DinnerDifficulty: Easy
12 SuperPretzel soft pretzels, 6 sliced in half like bagels
3 pretzel buns
1 large white onion, minced
3 celery stalks, minced
1 large carrot, minced (or 1/3 cup minced shredded carrots)
1/2 lb ground sausage
8 TBSP butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 TBSP minced fresh rosemary
1 TBSP chopped fresh thyme
2 TBSP chopped fresh sage
3/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP whole grain dijon mustard
2 cups chicken stock, divided (homemade preferred)
Note: You may need an additional 1/2 cup of stock if your pretzels are particularly dry.
1 large egg
pinch of MSG (optional)
pretzel salt (for topping)
- Preheat oven to 250F. Tear pretzels into bite-sized chunks. Slice the pretzel buns into 1″-2″ cubes. Toast in an even layer on an ungreased sheet pan for ~1 hour, tossing every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven when dried and place in a very large bowl.
- Increase oven temperature to 375F. Melt butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the ground sausage and use a spoon to break it into crumbles while it cooks.
- When the sausage is mostly cooked through and broken into small pieces, add the carrots, onions, and celery. Sauté until onions are translucent and golden, but not brown. Add mixture to the bowl with the pretzel pieces along with parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper. Mix and stir to combine.
- Add 1 cup of chicken stock and 2 TBSP whole grain mustard. If you’re adding msg, sprinkle it in now too. Stir to combine.
- In a small bowl beat together 1 1/2 cup stock and 1 large egg. Add to pretzel mixture and stir again to thoroughly combine and evenly distribute all the ingredients.
- Let mixture sit for 15-20 minutes. Check the pretzel texture — if they’re still quite hard, add another 1/2 cup chicken stock and mix again.
- Transfer the mixture to a well-greased or well-buttered casserole dish and sprinkle pretzel salt over the top. Cover loosely with aluminum foil.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 375F, then remove the foil, rotate the dish, and reduce oven temp to 350F. Bake for another 20 minutes.
- When the stuffing is deeply golden brown and crunchy on top it’s done. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for 10 mins before serving.
- For a precise measure of doneness, you can use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temp of the stuffing. It’s should be 160F when it’s done.
- To make this vegetarian, use vegetarian stock instead of chicken stock and omit the sausage.
- If you’re lucky enough to live near a supplier of fresh soft pretzels, then aim for approximately 3-4 cups (1-1.5 lbs) of loosely packed torn pretzel pieces. All the other measurements should remain the same, but you may need to adjust 1) the amount of chicken stock needed and 2) the amount of time needed to dry the pretzel pieces in the oven ahead of time.