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January 7, 2015

Dressingus Maximus: Southern Cornbread Dressing

So if you follow me or participate in different Twitter food chats, the discussion of side dishes often came up. Of course holidays have some specialties and some more specific than others. One of which was the "debate" between "dressing" and "stuffing" side dishes. What made this interesting is that we had many people from other parts of the world- Canada, United Kingdom, and India among many other places. If you a member of any of these chats I mentioned, you probably noticed how I mentioned cornbread dressing is the way to go. It was funny how some didn't know the difference or even tried to argue there was a difference between stuffing and dressing.

Well, is there a difference? Yes and no. The differences are just as the names imply. Stuffing is what is actually stuffed inside a bird. Dressing is the same thing (in concept) but served on as a side dish (in a casserole dish or large foil pan, depending on who is making it). From a recent #fdbloggers chat, Hannah Webster (Twitter handle @Hannahwebs, from the UK) and I had this exchange, which inspired this post (in part anyway). It went like this:

OK. While I touched upon the difference between stuffing and dressing, there are differences between HOW each is made. Some call for some form of bread (e.g., white, baguette, sour dough, TOAST which seems odd to me, etc). For me, most of my family on both sides have Southern roots. My parents and various extended family lived (and many still do) throughout central and southern Illinois. Those before them can be traced to Indiana and Tennessee. For those with those roots, cornbread is the bread of choice. 100% cornbread, not a mix with another. This style of dressing is MUCH more dense and filling. Depending on how it's made, it can be a meal onto itself.

I had an interesting discussion with my friends from my health club. What's more ironic is that we had this discussion in the club's sauna of all places. So when asking about what we (my family) would be having, the stuffing-dressing discussion came up. She is from Poland (but her husband is American) and she had never had cornbread dressing. After explaining there was no difference between stuffing and dressing, there are different types. She had the typical dried breads. She had never thought about cornbread dressing until I had mentioned we have that exclusively as a side. Another member basically confirmed what I had said about cornbread dressing. I provided 3 different recipes to make this (properly cited) as a reference.

So right about now, you're probably expecting an step by step recipe for how to do this. I already posted references that are similar to my Mom's dressing. My friend, Jola (from my health club) asked me if she had to do anything different from what she already did. I said there were 2 key differences. The first is the cornbread itself. The first thing you do is bake one pan of cornbread as if you were making a cake or a side dish. Some say cover and some say not for a day after baking. After a day or so, begin to break the whole cornbread cake into smaller pieces and then follow your regular recipe for stuffing. Some don't believe in letting the cornbread sit for a day. That's a debate for another day. For the sake of this exercise, let it rest a day. Whatever seasoning you use in your stuffing will work with this as well (as you'll later read). The second key differences is that cornbread tends to absorb more liquid. So the one thing you'll need to be aware of is that you may need more stock for this. Break the pieces of bread and add stock as you normally have. You may have different texture, but consistency should be similar (somewhere between mashed potatoes and a casserole). Expect to use between 24 to 36 oz of liquid (stock or your choice is best). If you use a 9" X 12" pan to cook the cornbread dressing, cooks at the normal temperature you uses for about 45-60 minutes.

The above is the payoff. You want to talk about tasting better the following days ahead (if there is any left), put this on the list. Now this is how I enjoy my family dressing each holiday season. My goal is to learn my Mom's cornbread dressing. I had two dinners for Thanksgiving. I also at with my extended family as well. My Aunt's cornbread dressing is a bit heavier on celery than my Mom's is but still very good. Due to the liquid content of this, you really don't need gravy but if you wish to have it, go for it. Add your choice of flavor to the gravy, such as oyster, pepper, sage or whatever you choose to have. Below is the cornbread dressing I had for Christmas dinner. Trust me that this recipe doesn't get old at all. I will share some of the highlights of my Christmas dinner a a couple of days or so. As for my friend Jola and her husband, they became believers as well. Once you try it, you'll believe it as well. If you try this, feel free to share how it turned out and what, if anything, you did differently. 

Works Cited:
1. Down Home with the Neely's: Neely's Cornbread Stuffing, taken from the Food Network via YouTube, uploaded on October 26, 2010.

2. Kimberly In The Kitchen (YouTube channel), "Southern Cornbread Dressing" recipe, YouTube Original Channel, uploaded on October 25, 2012.

3. "How to Make the Best Cornbread Dressing Ever", TeeTee Online original YouTube video, uploaded on November 12, 2010.

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