What makes Thanksgiving different than a turkey meal any other day of the year?
The dressing, that's what.
True, it began as stuffing, when pilgrim women wondered what in the world to do with that giant cavity in the bird. They stuffed it with stale bread, cranberries, apples and a few sprigs of wild sage, and when the turkey was finished cooking, they used a large spoon to take out the steaming glop of goo, which they slopped on the plate next to the turkey and squash.
These days, it's stuffing if it's still cooked in the bird and dressing if it cooks by itself. I prefer dressing for myriad reasons, including the fact that it gets crispy on the top instead of becoming gluey goo.
Basic dressing is a blank canvas that you can customize any way you choose. While Peggy Jane the Mom's has been exactly the same for 60-some years (way too much onion and too much sage), mine has been slightly different every year, up to and including now using cornbread as at least half of the baseline, if not more.
Baking the bread, as in the recipe below, prevents it from becoming like glue when liquid is added, and also prevents the need to "dry" bread on the counter for days on end, as the pilgrim women most likely had to do.
Here is a basic dressing recipe, and some ideas for add-ins. I prefer fruit and nuts, usually fresh apple, dried cranberries and pecans. One year I went black olives and pecans, and those at the table approved.
Here's hoping you've loved your surprise Thanksgiving dinner bonus recipes today -- a little turkey day present from the head pilgrim Josh and me.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish and foil
- 1 large loaf Italian bread (about 1 pound), cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 16 cups)
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 large eggs, beaten
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Divide the bread between 2 rimmed baking sheets and bake until dry and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender and beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, 2 to 4 minutes; transfer to a large bowl and let cool for 10 minutes.
Add the bread, broth, eggs, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the vegetables and toss to combine. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Cover with buttered foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned, 20 to 30 minutes more.
Andouille and Bell Pepper: Cook 12 ounces sliced andouille sausage in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. In step 2, cook 2 chopped red bell peppers along with the onions and celery. In step 3, to the bread mixture add the sausage and 3 tablespoons chopped oregano.
Caramelized Onion and Herb: In step 2, omit the celery and use 6 onions (halved and thinly sliced instead of chopped). Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 1 hour. In step 3, to the bread mixture add 1/4 cup chopped chives and 1 tablespoon thyme leaves.
Apple, Cranberry and Pecan: In step 2, cook 2 Gala apples (cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces) with the onions and celery. In step 3, to the bread mixture add 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup chopped toasted pecan halves, and 1 tablespoon thyme leaves.
(Adapted by Sal from Real Simple, November 2010)