Thanksgiving just wouldn't be Thanksgiving proper without the cornbread dressing. It's almost, if not, the most important part of the meal at our house. If you have turkey, you have to have dressing with it. Nothing else will do. Of course, you also have to have mashed potatoes and gravy. It just all has to be there, together in unison, on the plate. This might not be true for all of you and your Thanksgiving dinners, but it is for us. As far back as I can remember, the night before Thanksgiving, I can conjure up the pungent smell of poultry seasoning, black pepper and celery and onions being diced by my mother or other relatives who might be at our house for the holiday. The dressing was always mixed up the night before and it made me so hungry smelling all of the preparations for the next day's meal. It was comforting to know that people were in that kitchen getting things ready for all of us so that we would have a wonderful meal together. The smells are always what bring us back it seems.
Now, out of the past and into the present, I really have dreaded writing this post. I have discovered, the hard way, that dressing or stuffing as some call it, is a very controversial topic in the food world. I guess I never really knew that. Is it dressing or is it stuffing? Does dressing have to be cornbread or does stuffing have to be, well, stuffed, as in the bird stuffed? Is dressing the southern term for the same thing those above the Mason Dixon line call stuffing? It's all so crazy and people can get so argumentative about it.
Here is my take on it, dressing is the southern term for what we make and serve and it's usually a base of cornbread with (sometimes) other breads mixed in. Stuffing seems to be a northern or Midwestern term for something similar, but not always made with cornbread. Whether you stuff it in the bird or not, doesn't really seem to be a factor in whether it's called dressing or stuffing. I really think it's a geographic semantics sort of thing.
We bake our dressing in a casserole dish or baking pan. I honestly don't ever remember my mother baking it in the bird. I hear it's safer to bake it in the baking dish and not in the bird where it might not get cooked through enough so it's good we don't do that. If you do, be sure it reaches 165 degrees in the very center of the stuffing to be safe.
Now, this is the recipe we use for dressing, I am sure you and your family do it differently, but this is how we do it. All recipes are adaptable, so do what you will with it. Here is what you will need:
1 pan of cornbread ( recipe below)
6 slices white bread, toasted and cut in cubes
1 sleeve saltine crackers, crushed
2 cups celery, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
1 stick butter
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. sage (optional)
6 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 can cream of chicken soup
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup self rising flour
1 cup self rising cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbs. oil
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix all together and pour into an 8"x8" baking dish that has been heated with enough oil in it to cover the bottom well or you can use an iron skillet.
Bake for 30 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, crumble cornbread, add bread cubes and the crushed saltines. Place butter in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion and celery until tender. Pour this mixture over the bread and crackers.
Add seasonings. You will notice that we use mostly poultry seasoning. We actually leave the optional sage out, because the poultry seasoning is a blend of sage, thyme, rosemary, marjoram and black pepper. It's not so overwhelming and 'green' like the sage can be when overused. If your family likes their dressing green with sage, use more sage and less poultry seasoning. However, I am convinced that the over use of sage and the under use of other seasonings is what ruins a lot of good dressing.
Add 6 cups of chicken or turkey broth, the beaten eggs, and the can of cream of chicken soup. The can of soup adds the best flavor to dressing, but I can always envision the comments on this. I am not sure when canned soup got such a bad reputation, but let me say you can leave it out if you think you might die after ingesting it right there at the Thanksgiving dinner table. If you do leave it out, add an extra cup of broth and you might need a smidgen more salt. Lightly mix all of this together. This mixture will be loose, not tight or too thick. If it's too thick, add some more stock to it.
Spray a large baking pan or casserole dish with nonstick baking spray and pour the mixture in. Smooth the top, but don't pack it down in the dish. That makes the dressing too compacted and dry when baked.
This is best when prepared the night before and refrigerated overnight to give the flavors a chance to blend. When you take it out to bake on Thanksgiving day, drizzle about a cup of the warm turkey broth from your just baked turkey over the top of the dressing. This seeps down into the dressing as it bakes and really makes it moist and flavorful.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes.
This makes a really big pan of dressing, so if you are cooking for a smaller family, you can put this in two casserole dishes and freeze one for Christmas or another meal when you might have baked chicken or whatever. If you use two smaller casseroles, bake for about 30-35 minutes.