To Stuff or Not to Stuff (recipe: Old Fashioned Cornbread Dressing)
An ongoing rivalry exists between stuffing lovers and dressing lovers. Stuffing is most often associated with being stuffed in the cavity of the Thanksgiving turkey before cooking. Dressing is baked in a pan and never sees the inside of the bird and is served as a side dish throughout the year. Over the years, the name stuffing has taken on a different meaning and is used interchangeably with dressing. We need to set the record straight: stuffing is stuffed and dressing is….well….it isn’t anything. It’s baked all by itself. Southerners generally prefer dressing, typically cornbread dressing.
Dressing was created as a way to use up leftover cornbread, biscuits and bread. I store leftover pieces of bread and biscuits in the freezer to use in dressing. Some Southern cooks like to add crushed saltine crackers to dressing. If you’re making cornbread dressing, the addition of an ingredient made from wheat flour does give the dressing a nice texture and helps it bind together. I never have to use additional eggs in my dressing for a binder other than the eggs I put in the eggbread (cornbread).
I follow the method my Granny used to make dressing. My ingredient list is short just like hers. Cornbread, bread, onions, celery, stock and seasoning. She used poultry seasoning. I’ve never bought that but I’m sure it containes sage as one of the ingredients. I use fresh sage instead.
A tip for getting as much flavor in your dressing as possible is to use stale cornbread and bread. I make cornbread a day ahead. Stale bread will soak up more of the stock and bring loads of flavor into the dressing. Of course, you need to have a good quality stock. Also, after mixing in the stock, let the dressing sit for 30 minutes before baking. This gives the bread a chance to really soak up all that flavorful stock instead of having it cook out as it bakes. Plus, it gives everybody in the dressing a chance to get to know each other and come together as one.
I’ve been cooking for many years and have gone through many cooking phases including everything from hating to cook to preparing large gourmet spreads. During my gourmet cooking phase, I experimented with dressing up the dressing. I was snobbish and thought cornbread dressing was just too plain and simple. As it turns out, being plain and simple is what makes it taste so good. I’m over being snobbish about my food. I’ve come full circle back to the down home honest cooking that has fed my family for generations. I’m thankful to be back home and I won’t be straying again.
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Old Fashioned Cornbread Dressing
I keep odds and ends piece of bread in the freezer for making croutons for dressing. After thawing out the bread, I cut it into cubes, drizzle over some oil and seasoning, toss well and bake at 350 until it browns. I used up all the bread I had saved. For the life of me, I can’t remember how I used it, but I hope the dish turned out well. As a substitute for homemade croutons, I like Pepperidge Farm Cubed Stuffing in either Herb or Sage and Onion flavors. Instead of croutons, you can use biscuits or saltine crackers.
1 batch Egg Bread (Southern Buttermilk Cornbread) or use your favorite recipe
6 cups croutons (I used Pepperidge Farm Cubed Stuffing Sage and Onion flavor)
3 medium sweet onions, diced
2 cups celery, diced
2 tablespoons fresh sage, finely minced
2 quarts homemade chicken/turkey stock or good quality commercially prepared
1 to 2 teaspoons black pepper
salt to taste
Tear cornbread into pieces.
Put the cornbread and croutons into large bowl. You’ll need to find a bowl bigger than your head. I have a 16 inch graniteware bowl that is perfect for making dressing.
Add stock and stir well. Add one teaspoon of black pepper, stir and adjust as needed. I rarely need to add additional salt. Let dressing sit for 30 minutes to absorb all the liquid. Stir and pour into greased baking pans. I used 2 (8 x 8) aluminum pans instead of 1 (9 x 13) pan because I want to freeze the dressing for use at a later date. One 8 x 8 pan fits nicely inside a gallon freezer bag for storage. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until the top has browned.
Serve with Giblet Gravy.
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