By Gini Rainey
I just thought life couldn’t get more hectic last month. I was terribly wrong. So once again my Guest Writer has come to my rescue and emailed me another blog entry. Once again, kudos and deeply felt appreciation to you, my dear Guest!
Nearly everyone who reads this will have partaken in one of the two scheduled times in which they can enjoy dressing or stuffing in 2018. Yes, we all know that some folks will make dressing at other times of the year to serve with chicken, but this is an odd behavior and should be considered suspect. Dressing/Stuffing, like canned cranberry sauce, was meant to be consumed during The Holiday Season, officially from Thanksgiving through New Year. So let’s talk about both the different ways that we enjoy this dish. Perhaps you’ll want to make the same thing for Christmas as you had for Thanksgiving, but perhaps you’ll decide to try something different.
We won’t rehash the “dressing or stuffing” debate; that’s been thoroughly plumbed by other publications. No matter how you make it, the terms refer to a savory mixture of starch (bread, cornbread, rice or wild rice) with vegetables and often a meat, such as sausage or oysters. Its mixture of onion, celery, and spices provide a fragrant offset to the relatively bland poultry. According to The History Channel, the term “dressing” came into use in the South in the late 1800s, because “stuffing” seemed too, ummm, forceful for proper Southern Ladies to utter. This was at the same time that “white meat” and “dark meat” came into use for what had always been referred to as thighs, legs, and breasts. One has to be careful saying things like that.
Whether you make “stuffing” (for cooking inside the turkey) or “dressing,” which is cooked by itself, depends on geographic and cultural factors. Southerners make “dressing,” usually with a (corn)bread base, because cornbread was a staple. In the north and west, the savory starch dish is cooked inside the turkey and called “stuffing,” but can be made from a wider variety of ingredients. The Midwest is a hodgepodge of the two. There are other regional variations – in parts of the Northeast, the stuffing takes the consistency of a paté with a life of its own. In New Mexico, dressing may contain torn tortillas and chiles.
I would like to share two (really, three) different approaches to dressing. Both of these recipes were meant to be cooked in a casserole dish or bowl; cooking inside the bird requires a dryer mixture, as it would be basted with the poultry juices while cooking. Both of the recipes are from my family – one from East Texas, the other from Southern Minnesota. And they’re very different!
Let’s start with what most of us from this area know. This recipe is the quintessential Southern cornbread dressing. It is a Southern family recipe that goes back to the 1800s. For a good traditional cornbread dressing base, you won’t go wrong with:
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
1/2 cup butter
7 cups finely crumbled cornbread (one skillet)
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried sage
4 large eggs, beaten
Sauté onions and celery in butter until tender. Add crumbled cornbread to a large mixing bowl; add the cooked onions, celery, and butter, then salt, pepper, sage, and seasoning. Mix thoroughly. Add chicken broth to make a very moist mixture, then stir in the eggs and scrape the dressing into a large greased baking pan or dish. Bake at 400º F until dressing is nicely browned, about 30-40 minutes
An excellent variation of this can be made by adding 1 lb browned breakfast sausage (I put the grease and all into the mix) and four chopped apples into the vegetables – don’t cook the apples as long as the onions and celery because you want them to be a bit crunchy. I’ve gotten rave reviews at family gatherings for this version.
And now for a different take on dressing, let’s look at one from the Midwest that’s based on wild rice. This recipe comes from a Minnesota family, and has been a staple at their gatherings for generations. The rice, mushrooms and onions combine to make a smooth, savory counterpoint to either baked turkey or ham. Try it as a second dressing – you’ll be a convert!
1 cup wild rice (support Native American industry and buy the type that’s harvested by hand)
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup diced celery
2/3 cup minced onion
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Rinse wild rice in several changes of hot tap water. Bring the wild rice and chicken broth to a boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering until the wild rice has absorbed the broth, about 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool. In a large pan over medium heat, melt butter. Sauté celery, onions, and mushrooms for 2-3 minutes until tender. Stir in the rice, salt, sage, and thyme. Turn into a casserole pan and cook at 350 F. for an hour.
Whichever way you enjoy your dressing/stuffing, I hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season!