For many people, the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table is a succulent roast turkey. For others, the most highly anticipated dish is the dressing. There are two schools of thought when it comes to this versatile side dish: stuffing or dressing. Some people say they're the same, but they're not.
The most obvious difference is stuffing is, well, stuffed in the turkey and baked. Dressing, on the other hand, is baked separately in a pan. Stuffing tends to be more common north of the Mason-Dixon line and dressing more common in the South. People in some parts of the country use white or wheat bread as the base whereas Southerners use cornbread.
A typical recipe for Southern dressing includes cornbread, white bread -- usually biscuits -- celery, onion, chicken broth, poultry seasoning, sage, salt, pepper, eggs and, if you cook the vegetables, butter. Additional ingredients vary depending on which region of the country you reside. Common additions include oysters, rice, sausage, turkey giblets, dried cherries, cranberries, pecans and almonds.
For years, I made cornbread dressing using my mother's recipe. Although the dressing was good, it was never as good as what my mother always prepared. A couple of years ago, one of my nieces made the best cornbread dressing I'd ever tasted. She shared the recipe with me and it has since become a staple on my holiday table. The recipe makes a lot so be sure to use a big mixing bowl. I don't have a mixing bowl big enough so I mix everything in my biggest stockpot.
The recipe uses the ingredients listed above for Southern dressing, but with two notable differences. First, the recipe uses cornbread and Mexican cornbread. The Mexican cornbread adds additional flavor without any additional work. Second, in addition to chicken stock, the recipe also uses milk.
To save time, I bake the cornbread and biscuits the day before and store them in a covered container. When I'm ready to assemble the dressing, I use a food processor to chop the cornbread and biscuits into very fine crumbs. If you don't have a food processor, grate the bread into crumbs using a hand or box grater. No matter which method you use, you want the crumbs to look like this:
If you've got a food processor, use it to chop the onions and celery too. They also need to be chopped very fine which, of course, you can also do with a knife.
Once everything is chopped, cooked and combined, add milk to the dressing until it's the consistency of a thick cake batter. Don't add too much milk; you don't want the dressing to be soupy.
When all the ingredients are combined, there's enough dressing to fill a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan and a 9-inch pan. Bake the dressing 45 minutes covered with foil; remove the foil and bake an additional 15 minutes to brown the top.
The house smells so good while the dressing bakes. To dressing aficionados, the dressing makes the house smell like Thanksgiving more so than the turkey!