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Cynthia Stone: All about the dressing

Around these parts turkey means stuffing — and stuffing means savory.
Around these parts turkey means stuffing — and stuffing means savory.

My mother made dressing at least once a week and for every special occasion.

She favored the poultice style, dipping bread in cold water, squeezing it dry then mixing it with butter, onions, savory, salt and pepper before stuffing whatever bird was on the menu. No one had any trouble getting it down, that’s for sure, but like all traditions it has changed a bit through the years.

When my family comes over now there’s no choice but bread and savory dressing, but I have a few more adventurous acquaintances willing to give something new a try.

On this holiday weekend, if you’re stuffing something, maybe one of these will be on your table.

 

Savory Bread Dressing

I don’t soak the bread anymore and now I fry the onions instead of using raw, but the flavors are exactly as I remember them growing up.

For four or five people at my table I use a whole loaf of bread and there’s nothing left to speak of — don’t tell, okay? For a more modest or perhaps normal serving I’d allow a couple of slices per person, so this amount should feed a crowd.

Speaking of the bread, my favourite is sourdough, although a close second is three parts white to one part whole wheat. And if I’m investing in a turkey I’m also investing in good quality bread — the bag of scraps in the freezer can wait for an ordinary Saturday night.

I haven’t actually stuffed a bird for years because by the time the middle of the cavity reaches a safe temperature the breast is like sawdust. I do, however, smear a handful of this mixture all around its insides so I can get the flavor I’m looking for in a roast turkey.

If you’re wondering about the unsalted butter it’s because I want to control the seasoning.  Use too much salt and the whole pan of dressing is ruined. If you use salted butter or margarine, don’t add more salt without tasting first.

2 large yellow onions, diced

½ cup unsalted butter

1/3 cup dried savory

1 lb. (1 loaf) bread, whatever kind you like

½ tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper, maybe more to taste

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth, or turkey if you made extra for the gravy

½ cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, optional, divided

Fry onion in butter over low heat until soft and barely starting to brown. Add savory and cook together a minute or so. Set aside to cool.

Cut bread into small cubes and place in a large mixing bowl. Add onion mixture, salt, pepper and broth. Mix well, taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. Stir in about half the parsley.

Bake in a large, shallow casserole dish, covered, at 350 F for 20 minutes. Stir and bake uncovered another 15 minutes or until there are crusty bits around the top and sides. Stir in remaining parsley and serve.

 

Cornbread and Sausage Dressing

Cornbread is a southern U.S. staple and you can buy the dry boxed mix like we can chocolate cake. I find that version too sweet for dressing so it’s just as well you make your own.

This amount also serves a crowd, depending on how many side dishes are on offer, of course.

Cornbread:

¾ cup each all-purpose flour and yellow medium-grind cornmeal

1-1/2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk or soured milk

2 eggs

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 tbsp. honey

Dressing:

4 hot Italian sausages

¼ cup unsalted butter

2 cups diced yellow onion

1 cup each diced celery and carrot

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 tsp. each savory and dried oregano

1 tsp. poultry seasoning

1 batch cornbread, cut into large cubes, about 8 cups

4 cups white bread cubes, cut a bit smaller than the cornbread

3 eggs

½ tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Make the cornbread a day ahead for best results. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk together buttermilk, eggs, melted butter and honey and add all at once to dry ingredients. Stir just enough to combine and pour into a well-greased 9-inch baking dish. Bake at 425 F 20 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean, edges pull away from the pan and the top is golden brown. Cool 10 minutes in the pan then turn out on a rack.

For the dressing, remove casings from sausages and fry in a non-stick pan over medium heat until browned and cooked through. Drain on paper towels. Discard fat in pan. Melt butter and fry onion, celery and carrot until soft. Add garlic, savory, oregano and poultry seasoning and cook until fragrant, a minute or so; cool.

Place cornbread and white bread in a large mixing bowl. Add sausages and onion mixture.

Whisk together eggs, salt, pepper and broth and pour over mixture in bowl. Stir gently to moisten but try not to break up the cornbread. Bake in a large, shallow well-greased baking dish at 350 F 45 minutes, until the top and edges are crispy. Check at 30 minutes and add a splash of broth if mixture seems too dry.

 

Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. Email questions to her at cynthia.stone@nf.sympatico.ca.

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