A view from my side.
Christmas dinner at my house is a typical southern turkey dinner. Everything cooked from scratch. It takes the better part of the day, especially in my small apartment kitchen, but it is well worth the effort. Such were the meals I grew up with. While I try to adhere to tat mantra, it is not really practical for me on a daily basis. But for special holiday meals, I always make sure to follow it.
This year’s Christmas dinner was such a meal. Roast turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, sautéed squash, cornbread dressing, and, of course, gravy. The green beans were made the day before as they taste even better having spent the night in the fridge, soaking up the flavor from the hamhock (see Pot O’Beans). Almost everyone can roast a turkey, mash potatoes and sauté squash. Cornbread dressing, on the other hand, is a dying dish. I find it with less frequency on the tables of my friends and almost never in a restaurant. So, without further ado…let’s make some, shall we?
First, of course, is the cornbread. And by cornbread, I mean cornbread, not corncake. This is a flourless, sugarless cornbread. As such, it will be just the perfect crumbly consistency we need for the dressing. The recipe for the cornbread is very simple.
Next, mix in a bowl:
2 cups cornmeal
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1.5 cups milk
1 beaten egg
Put this into the hot baking dish (it should sizzle when you pour it in) and bake for about 20-25 minutes. When done, one must take a small piece, just to sample, you understand.
Crumble the cornbread into a mixing bowl and add the onions/celery. The next part kinda/sorta comes with experience. You obviously need some liquid to make this all work. I use varying parts milk and broth. The broth on this day comes from boiling the neck and giblets in a pot of water. Of course, you must also add chopped onion, celery, (I also use the “tops” of the celery, the leafy part most people cut and discard), along with either poultry seasoning or, your own mix of sage, rosemary, thyme and marjoram. Some pepper and, if so inclined, some salt. I tend to go very light on the salt, but it is up to you. The broth should have been working for a few hours to get the flavor just right, so start that part in the morning.
So, into the bowl goes the milk, broth and veggies. You must also add at least one, preferably two, beaten eggs. The eggs will give the mixture some cohesion so it all stays together instead of crumbling onto your plate. As I said, the exact amount of liquid is a variable. You want it to be moist, so play it by ear. You’ll want close to 2 cups. I always give it a taste and add more poultry seasoning if needed. When all mixed up, drop it into a 9 x 13 inch pan and bake at 350º for 45-60 minutes. (An 8 x 10 inch pan is a bit better, but I don’t have one, so yeah…deal with it.)
When done, you will have a decidedly tasty southern treat. Some people will also spice this up by adding crumbled/cooked sausage to the mix. I’ve had it prepared that way and it is mighty tasty. There are as many variations as there are southern households, but this is the basic recipe and the one I used this year. Be sure your cornmeal is fresh and hasn’t been sitting in the cupboard since last year. Funny as that sounds, it will make a difference.
This one takes some time to make, but is well worth the effort. If you’ve never had it before, give it a try and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. I always spoon a generous amount of gravy over the dressing on my plate, also made from scratch. The “big” holiday meal has always been a tradition at my house. This year, for the first time ever, I had all of my Kids, 1-4, together at the same time on Christmas day. It was a day that demanded such a meal. After all, as my mother always told me, “There’s Flavor in the Labor.”