Talk about a tectonic shift. I have never made cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving. Then, all of a sudden, it was essential to me to make cornbread dressing. Perhaps it was nostalgia. Someone would bring cornbread dressing to my Grandma’s Thanksgiving, and I was always standing there with a crappy look on my face, like only a 10 year old can properly do, wanting regular bread dressing. “I don’t like it,” I would utter, having never even tried it. Perhaps my Grandma Katie made it. Perhaps my Papaw Virgil made it. Would that I could have those moments back in life, when I scoffed at the unknown. I’m better now. I could cry at the thought of so glibly insulting the gifts of such dedicated people. I knew nothing of life, then.
This is a slightly different beast than their dressing. I relish the chunks of bread and the large textural components like the sausage and pecans. I think I once felt that stuffing and dressing needed to be somewhat homogenous, appropriately wet cement that could also be used for brick making.
This is my dressing for the year. This is not the cornbread that I create for eating straight with butter. It is good, certainly. But if it weren’t my goal to make something that I would be drying out on purpose, I’d create something slightly more tender. This is the one change from my favorite Thanksgiving recipes. If you are a bread dressing person, you might enjoy my last dressing invention, Sausage and Artichoke Dressing.
Thanksgiving Countdown 2012
Roasted Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Jelly and Giving Thanks
Sweet Potato Casserole
Farmstand Green Bean Casserole
Holiday Spiced Pecans
Roasted Acorn Squash Soup
The Quintessential American Apple Pie
Chocolate Pecan Pie with Cane Syrup
Heirloom Apple Cake
Self-help on dressing: Dressing is a creature of “fix as you go” cooking, an invention of dry breads and inexpensive materials. Don’t be meticulous about cleaning out the fat from the sausage. Don’t squeeze it dry with a paper towel to get out every last drop. The fat helps with the vegetables, and it adds flavor and moisture. If your dressing looks dry, add a little more broth and cook a bit longer. If your dressing still looks slightly dry, well, you haven’t yet put the gravy on top.
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh corn kernels, divided use
1 cup buttermilk
8 tablespoons melted butter
1. In a small bowl combine the all-purpose flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the container of a blender combine 1 cup of fresh corn, the buttermilk, melted butter, and eggs. Blend until smooth.
2. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add the remaining 1 cup of corn kernels and stir to combine.
3. Place the batter into a greased 9″x13″ baking dish and spread it into the corners of the baking pan . This is a very thick batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cornbread comes out clean, about 25 to 35 minutes. (Note: You can also cook this in a larger pan, which yields thinner cornbread that dries more quickly and has crisp edges, simply watch the baking times and reduce them.)
4. Allow the cornbread to cool completely. Cut it into 1 inch cubes and lay it on a large baking pan to dry out a bit. If you are making the dressing the same day as you bake the cornbread, you can speed up this process by placing the baking sheet into a low temperature oven and checking the cubes every five minutes until they have dried out and become slightly crisp on the edges.
1 (9″ x 13″) pan of cornbread, cubed and dried
1 pound breakfast sausage
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups chicken broth
1. Warm a large pot to medium-high and cook the breakfast sausage until it is well browned and cooked thoroughly. Remove the sausage to a plate. Sauté the celery and onion in the drippings from the sausage until they are softened and translucent, about five minutes.
2. Meanwhile, toast the pecans by laying them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake until the pecans are aromatic, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add the sausage and pecans back into the pot with the onions and celery. Season with the herbs and salt. Add the cubed cornbread and stir thoroughly to combine. Taste the combination at this stage for seasoning and add additional salt, if needed.
3. In a small bowl whisk together two eggs and 2 cups of chicken broth. Pour it evenly over the cornbread dressing and stir to combine. Transfer the cornbread dressing to a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and bake at 400° for 25 minutes.
Cornbread is so very personal. Dressing is so very personal. Families have habits and traditions that go back generations and are practically built into our DNA. Writing about food has caused me to shift out of the habit mode and look at other ways of doing things. It has been an eye-opener to force myself to get out of my box of favorites and expand my worldview. But, dressing is just one of those things that we like to have the way we like to have it. What is your family’s dressing tradition…and do you ever…ever change course here and there on the things that you thought were indispensable on the holiday table?
And, as always, around Thanksgiving I want to make sure you know how grateful I am to have you visit my kitchen now and again. I am thankful for you. I wish you a peaceful week with little stress and a great deal of joy.