Whether you call it stuffing or dressing, Thanksgiving (and Christmas, in my family) is utterly incomplete without it. I was never much of a dressing fan until a couple of years ago; something about the texture was unappealing, and there were far too many other dishes vying for space on my plate for me to give dressing a real chance.
Strangely, I was converted by the same dressing that’s been present at every holiday meal of my life: oyster dressing. Conventional wisdom would dictate that anyone who has problems with the texture of dressing would probably also find oysters repulsive, but I am anything but conventional. I love oysters—recently had a wonderful meal at one of the best places currently shucking them in Seattle—and I love this oyster dressing.
I might be mistaken, but it seems like oyster dressing is a regional thing—yes, it’s Southern, but it’s more prevalent in coastal areas like New Orleans, Savannah, and Charleston. However it managed to make its way 100 miles inland to the kitchens of my grandmothers, I’m glad it did.
While both of my grandmothers make/made cornbread dressing, neither of them have/had an exact recipe. Once you have all of your ingredients on hand it’s a bit intuitive as to how much broth to use and which spices to add, so what follows is my maternal grandmother’s (Mema) basic guideline for dressing. Oh, and feel free to omit the oysters if you’d like. I followed her precedent and made both oyster dressing and the oyster-less variety; she served hers in separate dishes, but I only had one pan so I fashioned a tinfoil barricade so that oysters (1/3 of the pan) didn’t touch the rest.
A combination of my grandmothers’ recipes; makes one large Pyrex dish full of dressing.
6 cups cornbread (I used two boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
4 slices dried bread
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 carton chicken stock
1 small container fresh oysters (I used canned because I’m a lazy bum)
Make the cornbread, homemade or Jiffy mix. (I used mini muffin tins for my Jiffy because I already had them out.) Break up the cornbread into pieces. This is one step of the process that really depends on your preference; I left my cornbread in larger chunks than my grandmothers (or aunts or mother or cousins or uncles) and ended up liking it like that rather than the smaller chunks. Large chunks give the dish more texture, the lack of which used to be my main issue with dressing.
Put the cornbread in a large mixing bowl. Chop up your onion and celery and sauté them in the butter, and then add them to the bowl with the cornbread. Add the pieces of bread and seasonings, and then stir in the eggs.
Now here’s where it gets dicey. There isn’t a specific amount of chicken broth to add…you just kind of have to add some and determine if it needs more or not. I probably ended up using half of a box of stock. The goal is to add just enough to make the mixture moist, but not soggy.
If you’re making dressing without oysters:
Go ahead and put the mixture into a Pyrex dish.
If you’re making both kinds:
Pour half of the mixture into a dish. Add the oysters to the remaining mixture in the bowl—you can chop them in half or leave them whole—and pour into another dish. (Unless you’re like me and baked them in the same dish.)
If you’re making dressing with oysters:
Add the oysters to the mixture in the bowl (again, whole or halved). Pour into your baking dish.
Bake at 350˚ for 35–45 minutes.
The oyster part of the pan wasn’t quite as popular as the regular dressing at Thanksgiving, but those of us who ate it thought it was tasty! I was quite proud of myself for how it turned out—I’d never made dressing before, or even helped my mom make it.
I hope 2012 is treating you well so far! It’s snowing outside as I type this, as if Seattle could get any more gorgeous than the neon sunrises I saw on my morning commute this past week. I had a wonderful time at home for Christmas and New Year’s—hit all of my favorite places and saw my favorite people, including most of you who read this blog. It all came crashing to a halt the night I returned to Seattle (loooong story) but I’m back in the swing of things and looking forward to what this new year brings.