Hear this friends of cornbread dressing:
From now on you will make cornbread dressing with complete confidence and peace of mind. Everything you need to know is right here and, I tell you, it will be the best dish on the table. As always, don’t complicate the simple.
Dressing, baked in a pan not stuffed in a bird, is like a savory bread pudding using broth instead of milk. It’s just baked mushed up leftover bread moistened with broth and eggs with a few added seasonings. It’s my favorite side to make during the holidays and throughout the cold months because I can change up the flavors with a few easy additions to go with any menu. Don’t get stuck thinking that you have to serve cornbread dressing with turkey or chicken. A pan of dressing goes with any meat entree and works beautifully as the centerpiece of a meatless menu. It’s as at home on Wednesday night with pork chops as it is with Saturday night’s prime rib.
The secret to great cornbread dressing is a pan of real cornbread. You must do this. Not sweet Jiffy cornbread from a box, but no-sugar-added southern cornbread from regular everyday ingredients. The easiest thing to do is get a bag of self-rising cornmeal mix right there in the baking aisle by the flour and follow the directions on the bag. Note that northern-style cornbread is usually a half and half mix of cornmeal and flour. Southern cornbread is mostly cornmeal and it’s usually white cornmeal.
If you can’t find any self-rising corn meal (this has no added flour at all) or self-rising corn meal mix (has a little flour added) in your area, you can do this:
Hot Skillet Cornbread:
1 3/4 cup buttermilk (or a generous 1 cup of regular milk)
1/4 cup oil
1 3/4 cup plain cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat a large skillet (at least 9-inches) or 9 x 13-inch baking pan in the oven with a dollop of bacon drippings or a drizzle of oil in the bottom of it while the oven preheats to 450F. Heating the pan is critical for creating the all-important crust. Stir together the egg, buttermilk, and oil in a medium mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to make a smooth, pourable batter.
Remember this. The batter should be creamy, just like pourable pancake batter, and not too thick. Thick batter makes dry cornbread. Creamy batter makes moist cornbread. It’s that simple.
Don’t be afraid to add a little water to loosen up the batter if it feels too thick. You’ll get the hang of it quickly. Carefully pour the batter in the hot pan. Bake about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Larger pans will take less time, smaller pans will require more baking time. Thinner cornbread, increasing the ratio of crust to insides, is better to me so I use a large 12-inch skillet. Let cool 5 minutes, then flip it out on to a rack to cool completely. You can make this days ahead, crumble it up and keep it in the freezer. The bottom side is what really counts. This is perfect CRUST. And this is why you must preheat the pan with a little oil or bacon grease. Besides being drop-dead delicious with a moist interior, crusty cornbread makes the best dressing.
Crumble the cornbread in a bowl and combine with a wheat bread to help bind the dressing together. Use whatever you like. This time I used leftover Pepperidge Farm oatmeal bread. Anything will work. Rural southerners used their leftover biscuits. Anytime you have leftover cornbread, biscuits, or other bread freeze it for dressing.
You really only need onions and celery. But, add other stuff if you like. See the list at the bottom of the post for more great ideas.
Cook a couple of onions and ribs of celery in a generous amount of butter and/or olive oil or sausage drippings. I use 1 to 2 cups of each vegetable and 1/3 to 1/2 cup fat. Cook over medium-low heat so that the vegetables really caramelize and cook down. Takes about 15 or so minutes.
Unsweetened southern cornbread, a little regular bread, onions and celery, parsley and herbs, broth, and eggs. That’s it.
Blend everything together in a big bowl:
Crumbled cornbread (about 5 or 6 cups)
About 3 cups stale or fresh bread cubes
Cooked diced celery and onions in butter/and or olive oil
Handful of fresh chopped parsley
Other herbs as you like–fresh chopped sage, marjoram, thyme, rosemary (or, you can use any combination of dried herbs about 1 teaspoon each rubbed sage, marjoram, thyme, rosemary).
Generous amount of black pepper.
About 4 cups chicken or turkey broth, homemade or canned. Get the low sodium kind.
If it doesn’t seem moist enough and you’ve run out of broth, a little water works fine. 2 eggs, beaten. The mixture should be moist, but not soupy. Pour it all into a generously buttered big pan (9 x 13) or other at least 3-quart roasting pan. You can refrigerate it over night and cook it the next day, cook it right away, or cook, cool and reheat later. Leftovers reheat beautifully. My kids like a bowl of nuked dressing as a snack. Before baking, dot the top with bits of butter. Cover lightly with foil and bake in a 375° F oven. Baking time will vary according to the temperature of the dish. If you bake it right away, it will take about 45 minutes. Remove the foil during the last 15 minutes for a nice crispy brown top. If you are not sure when it is cooked enough, do a temperature check with an instant read thermometer. It should read at least 165°F. If you bake the dressing right out of the refrigerator, it will take longer to cook, at least an hour.
It makes a big full pan. If you want it thinner split it into two pans. Dot it with butter. Don’t mush down the top. Bumpy and crunchy is better. Cover lightly with foil and pop it in the oven.
We love the purity of the basic recipe, but on to the fun part. You can make about a zillion variations by adding all kinds of vegetables, meats, fruits, and nuts. Dressing is a blank canvas. Change it up according to the theme of your menu. Please let us know about your dressing variations. We’d love to hear about them.
Southwestern–Add chopped green chilies and a can of hominy. Don’t bother with the herbs. Serve with a grilled flank steak.
Italian–Italian sausage is fantastic in dressing. Use a pound of cooked and crumbled sausage. Add some rosemary. Pine nuts and apples work too.
Sausage, Apple, Pecan–Add a finely chopped apple, 1 pound of cooked and crumbled sausage and 1 cup of toasted pecans to the mix.
Leek and Country Ham–Use leeks instead of the onions and add bits of country ham.
Clam Stuffie–Add fresh chopped clams to the mix and a sauteed green bell pepper. Replace the broth with clam juice and water. R.B. loves this.
Cajun–Add cooked andouille sausage and sauteed red and/or green bell peppers.
Mushrooms go with everything.
Dried fruits like apples, apricots, raisins and cranberries add a nice sweetness to any dressing. How about chestnuts. And don’t forget oysters.