This year for Thanksgiving, James and I have volunteered to bring a dish we’ve never tried before but that I’ve always wanted to make: cornbread stuffing. Or I guess, more exactly, cornbread dressing since it won’t be stuffed inside the bird. We’re from Philadelphia and cornbread is not really a staple of family meals, although always welcome. Stuffings or dressings that don’t use regular sandwich bread have always fascinated me, since that’s what I grew up eating – Mom’s bread dressing is always made with Arnold’s Whole Wheat Bread. I’m also interested in the texture difference that chunks of cornbread would lend to stuffing – but most importantly, the flavors of slightly sweet cornbread combined with sage and rosemary sounds heavenly. James’ brother, Andrew, the brave host of Thanksgiving even with the most adorable 3.5-months-old baby now residing in their home, welcomed the side dish and we’re excited to contribute.
Cornbread stuffing actually requires the use of two completely new recipes to us: baking cornbread and then the cornbread stuffing. We could buy the cornbread, of course, but I saw several warnings that grocery-store cornbread would be too sweet. And I had to concede that can happen – grocery-store cornbread can often taste like corncake. So we decided to do a dry run and make both recipes, so we can be sure it’s delicious on Thanksgiving Day.
I only do dry-runs for really important things: I’ve done a few Christmas Cookie dry-runs, feeding my office with the tests, or before we’re going to make a special meal for someone. But having the audacity to volunteer yourself for the most important part of the Thanksgiving table and trying a new recipe? You must have some nerve. Thanksgiving is the most sacred of meals in the year: if you’re contributing, you better bring your A-game.
The best way, in my opinion, to do a dry run is to do the recipe once exactly as written. Therefore, I did no such thing. Who has time for that?
When waiting at the doctor’s office one morning, James and I went through a whole bunch of recipes for cornbread stuffing on our phones and narrowed down the ones we liked. Eventually, we settled on an Anne Burrell recipe, but we decided to sub in bacon for sausage, and omit cranberries and walnuts, to make it more crowd-pleasing. All the rest of the ingredients seemed right on.
I found a recipe that reviews lauded as a sturdy cornbread that wouldn’t fall apart, that seemed perfect for this dish. We needed 10 cups of cornbread, and in the very helpful video from Anne Burrell it looked like she just used two 8-inch cornbreads, so I’m trusting that I was right about that.
And therein lies one of my biggest frustrations as a home cook – poor recipe writing for normal people. This recipe called for 10 cups of cornbread. Sorry, but cornbread isn’t measured in cups. Had I decided to base the amount of cornbread I needed to make on the number of cups in the recipe, I would have made 5 cornbreads instead of two. Can you help a girl out and tell me how I get to 10 cups? Come on now.
We’re feeling really good about the stuffing at this point, but we do have a few tweaks to make, which I’ve included in the recipe below. I’ll make updates once Thanksgiving Day has gone down!
Adapted heavily from Anne Burrell’s recipe
Cornbread (makes one 8″ x 1″ loaf):
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup plus 3 TBL yellow cornmeal
- 1 TBL baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 4 TBL) melted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 pounds bacon
- 2 medium-sized onions, diced
- 1 heart celery, diced
- 3 gloves of garlic, pressed
- 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
- 3 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
- 2 8-inch cornbread loves, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 5 cups chicken stock
- First, bake your cornbread, at least 6-hours prior.
- Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
- Grease your pans
- Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately.
- Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir just to combine.
- Grease pan, pour batter into pan, smooth into an even layer.
- Cook for 30-33 minutes, until a skewer or knife inserted into the center of the loaf can be removed (mostly) clean
- Cool, remove loaf from pan, leave loaf out in the open air to stale
- When ready to make the dressing, preheat oven to 350ºF
- Chop all your ingredients – onions, celery, herbs
- Cook bacon in a skillet on the stovetop. Cut bacon into pieces with kitchen scissors or with a knife.
- Once bacon is cooked, remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain
- Let fat cool slightly and removed from pan. Leave about 4 tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan. (You heard me.)
- Add onions, celery and 1/2 tsp salt and cook in bacon fat on medium heat until they are lightly golden brown, about 10 minutes.
- Add pressed garlic and herbs and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Remove “aromatics” mixture from heat and let cool slightly – you’ll be mixing it with your hands soon.
- In a very large bowl (I mean VERY large), combine cornbread chunks, chicken stock and aromatics.
- Add chicken stock 1 cup at a time. You may not need a full 5 cups.
- This may be easiest to do by hand: reach down into the bowl, and pull your hands up as if folding the mixture on top of itself. It may take about 2 minutes until mixture is thoroughly combined.
- The final mixture will be very wet, but about half of the cornbread cubes will still hold their shape.
- Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish and bake in oven for 30-45 minutes, until the top is lightly golden and the mixture is very hot in the middle.
- Although delicious hot, we found the dressing even more delicious after sitting in the fridge for a day. Heat in the oven again before serving.
Since I’m serving this for guests, I took extra care to make sure my onion was properly diced, which can be a daunting task. If you’ve never done it before, you make cuts in the onion in three directions. It’s easiest in this order:
For the bacon, we cut the slices into pieces, instead of crumbling the bacon after it was crisp. I wanted big chunks instead of bits. James likes to cut each slice into the pan, as opposed to slicing the pieces altogether.
I don’t always use fresh herbs, but it’s fun for something special. Fresh herbs taste deeper, in my opinion – you get more of the flavor. For the rosemary, you can strip the leaves (or “needles”, really), off their sprig by holding onto the top of the sprig and pulling your fingers downward. You do not need pick them off one by one! The smaller “branches” that hold the leaves are perfectly safe to eat.
With the sage, the recipe calls for 10 leaves. I pile these leaves on top of each other and then roll them up, almost like a cigar! Then I slice into very thin ribbons or “chiffonade.” I then run the knife through the ribbons again several times to get a very fine mince.
Finally – that yummy cornbread. As I said above, the recipe we used isn’t my ideal cornbread for eating with some BBQ – it isn’t very moist and doesn’t have an interesting flavor on its own. However, we hit a home run for the stuffing. It works PERFECTLY – not too sweet and very sturdy. It’s very easy to cut into cubes and mix with the aromatics and chicken stock.
The finished mixture is half crumbly, half chunky – the texture really could not be more perfect!