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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving dressing (the good stuff): UPDATED for extra deliciousness

like many of the best holiday dishes, this is an amalgam of recipes from family, friends, things I learned in my former life as a chef and a few twists of my own. and like all the best recipes, it changes just a little every year. dressing is extremely malleable and customizable, so don't be afraid to change it up, add/subtract ingredients, make it your own. that said, I suppose I should give you a recipe rather than just the general notion "hey! make some stuffing or dressing!", so here's what I'm doing this year (including comments re: what I may do differently next year).

start by baking three different breads (my recipes are linked below):

  1. buttermilk cornbread, made with brown butter (see the brown butter batter bread recipe notes for directions to make it) in which I sauteed about 1/4 of an onion, plus a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh sage, 4-5 good slugs of Tabasco and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  2. brown butter batter bread
  3. biscuits (one day I'll publish my own recipe, but today I made them with Pioneer Buttermilk Biscuit Mix, and they were wonderful. just promise me you won't use canned biscuit dough, if you can avoid it -- the baking mix is just as easy and bakes pretty great biscuits). I made a batch from 3 cups of baking mix and 1 cup of milk.
hmmmm... buttermilk cornbread, brown butter batter bread & biscuits -- that's awfully alliterative, isn't it? unintentional, but mildly amusing. I am easily amused. so! after you bake each kind of bread, cool it, crumble coarsely and toast in baking pans in an oven heated to 400 degrees F for anywhere from 15-25 minutes -- you want to dry it out a bit (to avoid soggy dressing -- ew!) and get the crumbles golden brown. I do all of this -- baking and toasting -- the day before. dressing actually works a bit better when the bread is a day old.

by the way, baking all that bread will give you enough stuffing for an enormous crowd, but it doesn't make sense to bake a half loaf of bread, so once I got to this point, I took out about 3 quarts of the bread crumbs and froze them for future batches of dressing/stuffing. next year, I'll bake fewer biscuits, and maybe a smaller loaf of batter bread. or maybe I'll do it exactly like this again. I'm not sure yet. one new thing I did this year that I will continue to do -- make extra bechamel/veloute, and you'll have the base for your turkey gravy all ready -- all you'll have to do is add turkey drippings after you roast the bird; no hassle at all! and it's *good*. okay, here we go.
  • 3-4 quarts of the aforementioned crumbled, toasted breads -- about half of the total if you bake full batches of all the breads
  • at least 1/4 cup of fresh parsley (don't even think about using dried -- it's worthless); more if you'd like
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons schmaltz (!!!) yes, rendered chicken fat! your turkey's not cooked yet, or you could use the fat from the drippings. and if you don't keep schmaltz around in your freezer (I skim it off the top of my chicken stock when cooled, or do the same with refrigerated drippings after roasting a chicken), well, I think you should, but you can also just use the rest of the stick of butter instead. I just love schmaltz -- so much flavor -- like the poor man's duck fat.
  • 1 large or 2 small yellow onions, chopped finely (shallots would be lovely here, too)
  • 4-6 stalks celery, chopped finely (yeah, I forgot to buy celery this year -- d'oh! it would have been better with it, but was still good)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage (or 1 teaspoon dried, rubbed sage), chopped finely
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme), chopped finely
  • 1/2-3/4 teaspoon dried poultry seasoning, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2-3 medium carrots, peeled and diced finely
  • 1 bunch green onions, cleaned and sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream or half and half
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
caveat: I'm still working on these proportions; I may adjust them tomorrow -- I'm fairly sure about the amounts of bread, herbs and veggies, but may need to adjust the amounts of butter, liquids and/or eggs. *update: OH, the changes I made! well, nothing huge, but enough that it's made quite a nice difference (including the surprise bonus of getting the gravy base done at the same time) -- this is now the best dressing I've ever tasted... so far! some measurements have been nailed down, while others are still a bit... fluid, but with good reason! additions and explanations are indicated in bold throughout (except in the main cooking instructions below, because I changed so much that it would just be silly to bold it all).

that said: combine the breads in a large bowl, stirring together lightly (don't smash them up; keep it a bit fluffy). use 3 tablespoons each of the butter and schmaltz (or 3 tablespoons of just butter, if you're not using schmaltz) to saute the onions and about 1/3 each of the sage and thyme until tender, translucent and golden brown, seasoning as you cook with a bit of freshly ground black pepper and some poultry seasoning. when done, set aside 2 tablespoons of the sauteed onions in a small bowl, and scrape out all the rest of the pan into the bowl of breads. in the same pan, do the same with the celery, sauteeing w/the same amount of butter and schmaltz (or just butter), 1/3 each of the sage and thyme -- everything you did with the onions, including adding 2 tablespoons of the sauteed celery to the bowl with the reserved onions, then adding the rest to the big dressing bowl. add 3 tablespoons more butter/schmaltz and cook the carrots and green onion together with the remaining sage and thyme and cook just as you did the yellow onions and celery, seasoning as you go, setting aside 2 tablespoons of the cooked carrots/green onions with their yellow onion and celery friends, pouring the remaining carrot mixture into the dressing bowl. now, add 3 tablespoons of butter to the pan, place over medium heat, add the reserved sauteed yellow onion, celery, carrots and green onion, and saute for just a couple of minutes. then add the flour and mix into the fat -- it should combine to become approximately the texture of peanut butter. add more fat -- butter or schmaltz -- if it's too dry. lower heat to medium low and cook the veggies and roux, stirring/scraping the bottom of the pan constantly, for about 5-6 minutes, allowing the roux to darken a bit (adjust heat accordingly if it starts browning too quickly or doesn't brown/bubble at all). when the roux is done, whisk in 3 cups of the chicken stock and cream, and add the bay leaf and a pinch of nutmeg. raise heat to medium and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, and cook until thickened -- it should coat the back of a spoon nicely; a bit thicker than a regular white sauce. season to taste with salt, pepper and perhaps another touch of poultry seasoning, and then ladle about 1.5-2 cups into the dressing mixture, and stir to combine. you want to add enough to moisten it all, but not soak it. some of the larger chunks of bread will still be a bit dry in the center, but it will hold together fairly well. taste and make your final seasoning adjustments. but what about all that lovely sauce you didn't use, and the extra cup of chicken stock? yep, you've got it! strain that sauce through a chinois or a fine metal mesh strainer (throwing away the solids), add the chicken stock to the sauce and bring back to a simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened -- this time, it's the right thickness for gravy! so when you finish roasting your turkey, add in the turkey drippings (excess fat removed, of course), and your gravy is done! magic! back to the dressing: whisk the eggs in a bowl with the baking powder, and fold it into the dressing mixture. spoon it (without packing it down too much) into a 9x13 buttered baking dish. cover with buttered foil or parchment (butter-side-down) (you can prepare it a day ahead at this point -- just refrigerate, then take out from the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to bake it, so it can come to room temperature). bake the dressing covered for 30 minutes, then remove foil or parchment and continue baking another 15-20 minutes, until top is nicely browned and crisp.

things you could add to or change about this stuffing that would be delicious (just don't do them all!):
  • a moderate amount of fresh, finely chopped rosemary
  • 1-2 peeled, diced apples, sauteed in butter with the onion, celery, etc.
  • a container (I think they're usually 8-10 ounces) white button, cremini or baby bella mushrooms, cleaned, quartered and sauteed in butter/schmaltz like the other veggies
  • 1/2-3/4 cup dried fruit, plumped in just a bit of hot water or chicken stock -- cranberries or cherries would be especially good
feedback on this recipe particularly welcomed!


zoomletta said...

Why haven't you written a cookbook? Your recipes are amazing!

Diane McGee Hardin said...

why, thank you so much! when I started this blog, one of the ideas was to gather recipes for a potential book, and to practice my recipe writing. so you never know! of course, if I ever do publish a book, it will include MANY recipes not in the blog. :-)