Monday, December 10, 2012

Cornbread Dressing

Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern cornbread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite so bad as the Northern imitation of it.
~ Mark Twain ~

Cornbread, an omnipresent food staple of the South. There's nothing better hot from the oven with a generous smear of butter. I love it in the summer with fresh peas and butter beans, using the crust to sop the pot liquor from the plate. Or in the winter with Beef and Vegetable soup. A big slice for me, please.  
~ Me ~

Southern Cornbread in Cast Iron ~ Gotta be Cast Iron
During the holiday's, more specifically Thanksgiving, our family expects the pièce de résistance on the dining table to be Southern Cornbread Dressing. It's a simple concept. Take the best cornbread on the planet, lace it with the Louisiana trinity and rich homemade stock, then perfume it with glorious sage. It's memorable I can tell you.

First we begin with the cornbread.

Anny's Cornbread

1-1/2 cups plain white corn meal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons bacon drippings

Mix the dry ingredients well.  Add most of the buttermilk and stir.  Add the eggs and beat well.  Add as much of the remaining buttermilk as you need to make a cake batter consistency. Beat well, for at least 2 minutes.  Preheat a 9" cast iron skillet to very hot and add the bacon drippings.  Pour the cornbread mixture into the hot skillet. The batter will spit and sizzle, but that's a good thing because it forms a really crispy, crunchy crust. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and the center is done, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Note:  You can use this same batter for Mexican Cornbread with creamed corn, hot peppers and good sharp cheese added to the mix.  Or even Crackling Cornbread made by adding freshly cooked crackling meat to the mix.  Ma made Crackling Cornbread every good. 

Next we make the stock.

My dressing has evolved over the years and is now influenced by my grandmother's and of course, Mama. Mammy added rice and at least a dozen eggs to her huge pan of dressing. Ma used various kinds of bread, such as leftover biscuits or rolls for hers and Mama loved lots of the Louisiana Trinity and always a huge baking hen for her stock. So I take a little from all of them, tweak a bit and make it my own. It's a two day process that involves making my stock early the day before Thanksgiving, making my dressing and keeping it in the fridge until the next day's baking adding the eggs just before baking. It's rather an involved task, but I love it.


1 large Long Island duck
1 large roughly chopped onion
roughly chopped carrots
2 stalks roughly chopped celery with leaves
1 box of chicken stock

Very rich stock ~ Wonderful stuff
Thoroughly wash the Long Island duck and place in a large stockpot.  Add the next 4 ingredients and enough water to cover the duck.  Bring the pot to a boil, but reduce to medium simmer immediately.  Cook for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until the duck is tender and almost, not totally, falling off the bone.  Set aside to cool and remove the duck from the stock. After the stock has cooled, strain the liquid through a colander and discard the vegetables. When it's cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the duck and set aside.

Cornbread Dressing:

2 'pones' cooked corn bread
Stale bread

Note: The bread you use can be anything, really...sliced bread, buns or whatever you have on hand. You can even freeze in advance shortly before making dressing. The extra bread is used as a binder and for texture, but don't add very much. The cornbread is the main bread ingredient.

1-1/2 to 2 cups cooked long grain rice
3-4 tablespoons duck fat from the stock
2 large finely chopped onions
1 to 2 large finely chopped bell peppers
3 to 4 stalks finely chopped celery with leaves 
Cooled duck stock
Salt to taste
2 to 3 bunches chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Ground sage to taste
Black pepper to taste
8 to 10 eggs

Mixy, mixy
Into a very large bowl crumble the cornbread and stale bread. Sauté the onion, bell pepper and celery in the 3-4 tablespoons of duck fat until the veggies are softened. Add to the bowl along with the cooked rice. Mix well. Add stock slowly cup by cup, mixing after each addition. I use a potato masher for this, it works beautifully. Taste for salt and add more if needed at this point along with green onions, parsley, ground sage, and black pepper. Mix until it begins to be the consistency of a thick batter, at least 10 minutes. 

Eggs make it puffy and souffle like...and good
At this point I refrigerate overnight to blend the flavors and the next morning before baking I add the eggs, mixing well after each addition. The dressing will be thicker after the overnight stay in the fridge, so you may need to adjust the consistency with additional stock. Butter a large loaf pan (you may need 2 pans) and add the dressing filling the pan about 2/3 full. Bake at 325 to 350, depending on your oven, until the center is set. This should be an hour or so. If you wish, you may add the duck to the top of the dressing just before baking, or place on a baking dish and heat in the oven to serve alongside the dressing, which I prefer.

Hot and ready for Giblet Gravy and Fresh Cranberry Sauce
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday!  

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