One of the most beloved Thanksgiving side dishes is also the most contested. Is it called stuffing or dressing? And what’s even the difference between the two? Quite a lot, according to chef, restaurant-owner and cookbook author Alexander Smalls. From what kind of bread to use, to what kind of protein to add, this Thanksgiving dish can look vastly different depending on what part of the country you hail from. Smalls walks us through how to make a special kind of dressing inspired by flavors from his own childhood: Low Country Oyster Cornbread Dressing with Crispy Slab Bacon.
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
- 1 cup smoked slab bacon, cut into 1-by-1/3-inch pieces
- 2/3 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup roasted corn kernels (optional)
- 2/3 cup finely chopped celery
- 1½ tablespoons rubbed fresh sage
- 1¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
- 5 cups crumbled day-old buttermilk cornbread (recipe follows)
- 4 cups torn white bread, slightly dry toasted
- 18-20 fat oysters (1 pint), shucked with liquor reserved
- 2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
- 3 large eggs, well beaten
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
- nonstick cooking spray with flour (optional)
- 1/2 cup coarse white cornmeal
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1½ teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup fresh corn kernels
Preheat your oven to 375 F and grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish generously with butter.2.
Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray, cover with a layer of aluminum foil, top with a cooking rack and spray that with non-stick cooking spray, too.3.
Arrange the bacon onto the rack in a single layer, leaving space in between each piece.4.
Roast until firm and crispy, about 45 minutes, then reduce the oven to 325 F.5.
Transfer the bacon to a cast-iron pan and sauté over medium heat until very crispy, about 20 minutes.6.
Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat.7.
Add the onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, corn (if using), celery, sage, thyme and celery seeds, cover with a lid and cook, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes; remove from the heat and cool.8.
In a large bowl, toss the cornbread and white bread to combine. Add the bacon and any renderings and toss to combine. Add the cooled vegetable medley and toss to combine.9.
Line a fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth, place over a 4-cup liquid measuring cup and strain the oyster liquor through it. Add enough stock to equal 2 cups. Add the eggs and whisk to combine, then pour it into the bowl with the bread. Add the salt and pepper, cayenne and nutmeg, and stir to combine.10.
Spoon half of the dressing into the prepared baking dish. Space the oysters evenly over the dressing at least an inch away from the sides of the dish. Spoon the remaining dressing over the oysters, spreading it to the edges of the dish.11.
Bake until the dressing is steaming, and the top is lightly browned, about 1 hour. Let stand for 5 minutes, then serve hot.
For the buttermilk cornbread:1.
Preheat the oven to 400 F and line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners or coat the muffin cups with nonstick spray.2.
In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, coriander, baking powder and salt.3.
Whisk in the milk, buttermilk and oil, then whisk in the eggs until the batter is smooth.4.
Stir in the corn until well-combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, dividing it evenly.5.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes; serve immediately.