I’m convinced that, for most Americans, stuffing is the food most bound by tradition. When I’m eating with new friends around the holidays, I like to ask them what kind of stuffing they ate when they were growing up. (Well, usually I ask about what kind of “dressing” they ate, but then, unless they’re Southerners, they get confused and tell me about what kind of salad dressing they used.) Often the answer is “You know, regular stuffing. The usual kind.” But one person’s “regular stuffing” is another person’s culinary abomination, an affront to a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. I, for example, cannot abide New England oyster stuffing, while some people have never tasted stuffing that didn’t come out of a box of Stouffer’s.
Since my mom and grandmother grew up in Oklahoma, “stuffing” in our house means a simple cornbread stuffing, preferably cooked outside the bird so that it develops crisp edges. The first several times I made it myself, I would call my mother for the recipe, only to be reminded that there is no recipe. After you make a pan full of cornbread, you add a handful of this and splash of that and keep testing it until it tastes like … well, grandma’s stuffing. So, with all the precision that my mom and grandma would use if they were telling you how to make it, here’s how it’s done.
You start by making a pan of cornbread. Two pans, if you’re making a double batch, as we always do.
After letting dry out a bit overnight, crumble it into a bowl and assemble the other ingredients: white breadcrumbs, celery, onions, chicken stock, milk, butter, salt, pepper … oh, and poultry seasoning, which is very important but I forgot to include in the picture.
For each pan of cornbread, melt about a stick of butter. And here’s where I got a little crazy and changed things up. I substituted a big dollop of bacon fat for one of the sticks of butter. I like to think my grandma would approve.
Throw in a mess of chopped celery and onions.
While the onions and celery are sauteing, throw the cornbread crumbs, white bread crumbs, a handful of poultry seasoning, and salt and pepper in a bowl.
Add the sauteed veggies to the bowl, along with enough stock and milk to make it fairly moist. You’re going to have get in there with your hands and squoosh it around to make sure everything is thoroughly combined.
Spread it all in a baking dish and you’re good to go.
At what temperature should you cook it, you might ask. Well, whatever temperature your oven happens to be set, because undoubtedly the candied yams or roasted brussels sprouts or a 14-pound turkey will be competing for space in your oven. But if you like the edges crunchy (a must in my family), you’ll want to turn the temp up to about 450 for the last 10 or 15 minutes, or you could put it under the broiler for a final blast, too.
So what sort of dressing (whoops, sorry, “stuffing”) did you grow up eating? And how would you feel if you were served a different kind on Thanksgiving or Christmas?