Bread vs. cornbread and all their possibilities

Adrienne Freeman Published November 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Dressing and stuffing are staples of a Thanksgiving dinner. While dressing is more of a Southern affair, stuffing is a Northern spin on the dish. The significant difference between the two is the bread. Dressing is made from cornbread, and stuffing is made from other breads.

Dressing or stuffing? In or out of the bird? These issues might not seem like profound decisions, but if you have ever seen two or three cooks on Thanksgiving with differing opinions on the matters, you might change your mind. Throw in choosing between traditional and new ways to prepare the turkey, and you may have a need for full summit negotiations.

A friendly Facebook survey confirms that here in the South, the word “dressing” is used to cover all multitudes of sins — mostly anything bread-based that is served alongside Tom Turkey. The situation is similar to all “soda” being commonly referred to as “Coke,” even if it is colored, clear or flavored otherwise. But even if these other bread-based dishes are generically referred to as dressing, Southern dressing is something altogether different — that basic recipe is very specific and cannot be confused with the “stuffing” that generally shows up north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

It has often been assumed that the difference is whether the delicious mixture is prepared inside the turkey or separately. Nowadays, with the benefit of food-safety guidelines, it is recommended to cook stuffing or dressing separately from the bird, but that is not the most important distinction.

The significant difference between the two is the bread — the first building block that contributes the base from which the dish is prepared. Dressing is made from cornbread, and stuffing is traditionally made from other breads — sourdoughs, biscuits, etc. Some dressing recipes incorporate a little white bread, but that does not exclude them from the Southern persuasion if cornbread is the cornerstone.

This distinction is important to Southern heritage for a number of reasons, but the main one is that corn is second to cotton as a cash crop. Information from the Southern Foodways Alliance (www.southernfoodways.org) tells us that during the Civil War, Southerners were forced to live off meager staples such as corn and beans, some of the only food resources that hadn’t been ruined by invading forces. Cornbread, grits and hominy forever became interwoven with the fabric of the South’s heritage and are quintessentially classified Southern foods. The same is true of dressing.

Hundreds of variations of both stuffing and dressing exist. Of course, no self-respecting Southerner would forgo cornbread dressing on Thanksgiving, but in our inbred sense of abundance, there is nothing wrong with a saucer of stuffing on the side.

SOUTHERN CORNBREAD DRESSING

Ingredients:

1 pan cornbread, cooled and crumbled

4 slices dried and crumbled white bread

1 sleeve saltine crackers, crushed

1 stick unsalted butter

3 ribs celery, diced

1 large onion, diced

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

2 quarts chicken stock (preferably homemade; if not, low sodium)

4 large eggs, beaten

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees about 2 hours before serving.

Prepare a 9- by 13-inch baking pan by lightly oiling or spraying with baking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the crumbled cornbread, dried white bread and crushed crackers.

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add celery and onion, and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Pour the sautéed vegetables over the cornbread mixture. Add the salt, pepper and poultry seasoning.

Add the stock slowly to the cornbread mixture. Stir in the eggs. (The mixture will be wet and soupy.) Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Bake for 50 minutes until puffed and lightly browned. Serve with pan gravy.

APPLE AND SAUSAGE STUFFING

Ingredients:

2 16-ounce loaves French bread or other crusty bread

1 cup butter

2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced

4 medium celery ribs, diced

4 medium Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled and diced

1 pound sausage

2 cups chicken broth

2 large eggs, beaten

1/4 cup fresh sage

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Place on a large baking dish, and dry in the oven 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a resealable bag, and crush the bread cubes with a rolling pin into coarse crumbs. Transfer prepared bread to a bowl.

Heat the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat until melted. Add the onions and celery to the pan and cook until soft, about 15 minutes.

Add the apples to the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Pour this mixture over the top of the bread crumbs.

Cook the sausage in the skillet until browned and crumbled. Add the sausage to the crumb mixture.

Pour the chicken broth over the crumb mixture. Toss.

Stir in the eggs and sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with baking spray or a light coating of oil. Place the dressing into the dish, increase the oven temp to 350 degrees and bake until the top is golden, about 30 to 40 minutes.

OYSTER DRESSING

Ingredients:

20 slices stale white bread

1 pan stale cornbread, crumbled

1 stick unsalted butter

2 cups onions, chopped fine

3 bunches green onions, both green and white parts, chopped fine

4 ribs celery, chopped fine

2 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

4 to 5 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade; if not, low-sodium)

1 pint oysters, shucked

Directions:

Toast the white bread, and tear into very small pieces. Combine with the cornbread in a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a skillet, and add the onions, green onions and celery. Sauté until translucent. Add to the bread mixture, and season with salt and pepper. Slowly add chicken broth to bind the mixture; you want it completely moistened but not overly wet. Mix in beaten eggs. Adjust the salt and pepper. Stir in the oysters.

Spoon dressing mixture into a large prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake for 15 to 20 additional minutes until the top is brown and the center is firm.

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