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The correct way to make a traditional cornbread dressing is highly contested — with each region, class and custom claiming to reign over the rest. / Photo by Melina Hammer/The New York Times

Readers have spoken and their go-to side dish for Thanksgiving is...drumroll please... dressing! (In a landslide.)

OK, probably not a big surprise there.

The bigger surprise would have been if salad had bested mac and cheese in the initial round of voting.

Our online survey started with a Sweet 16 of possible accompaniments for the Thanksgiving turkey. The brackets show how it played out.

In last year's Food section, we talked to three area restaurant owners whose menus often include dressing as a sidekick to roast chicken. They advised using homemade broth for added flavor, using cornbread as a base (though some cooks supplement with biscuits or bread) and starting with a very moist — even sloshy — consistency before it goes into the oven.

In a 2016 story for The New York Times, writer Kim Severson detailed the dozens of cooks she consulted and the many questions raised when she was learning to make cornbread dressing. White or yellow cornmeal? Sugar or no sugar? Butter or bacon fat? A strictly cornbread base or bread to lighten it up?

The only consensus, she found, was in the seasonings.

"Everyone agreed that lots of salt and pepper and a good amount of onions and celery sautéed in plenty of butter were essential," Severson wrote. "There's a strong lobby for poultry seasoning, that savior of the harried Thanksgiving cook, but I went instead with freshly chopped sage and thyme."

Her recipe is below, along with one for mashed potatoes. With cream cheese added, the survey's runner-up might improve its score.

 

Southern Cornbread Dressing

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus 8 hours for drying out cornbread

For the cornbread:

4 tablespoons butter

2 cups yellow cornmeal, fine grind (use the freshest, best quality you can find)

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk, preferably full fat

For the dressing:

3 cups soft white bread, crust removed and torn or cut into 1-inch pieces (do not pack)

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), plus more for the pan

2 cups chopped sweet onions

1 1/2 cups chopped celery (4 or 5 stalks)

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 eggs

1 1/4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 to 5 cups rich chicken or turkey stock, preferably homemade

Make the cornbread: Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put butter in an 11-inch skillet. Cast iron is best here, but any ovenproof skillet will do. Heat butter in oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until butter has melted and is just starting to brown.

While butter melts, whisk together cornmeal, salt and baking powder. In another small bowl, lightly beat eggs, then add buttermilk and stir until mixture is combined. Pour egg mixture into dry ingredients, and stir well.

Remove hot pan from oven, pour butter into batter and stir until batter looks uniform. Pour batter back into the pan, and bake for 20 minutes or until the top has begun to just brown.

Remove cornbread, and let it cool on a rack. Tear or cut it into large pieces, and place in a large bowl. Let it sit out overnight to dry out slightly.

Prepare the dressing: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cornbread and white bread in a large bowl, tossing to mix, and breaking cornbread into smaller pieces.

Melt butter in a large skillet, and add onions, celery and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté until vegetables have softened, about 6 minutes.

Add vegetables to bread mixture, and combine. Lightly beat eggs, and add to bowl. Sprinkle in herbs, remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper, and toss together.

Add 4 cups broth, and stir well. Using your hands, work the mixture to get a very lumpy, thick, batterlike consistency. Add another cup of stock if needed. The mixture should be very wet and pourable but without standing liquid.

Butter an 8- by 11-inch baking dish. (Any other ovenproof dish that can hold about 2 quarts will work. A deeper vessel could take longer to bake; a more shallow dish less time.) Pour the mixture into the baking dish, and bake until dressing puffs slightly and has browned well around the edges, 45 minutes to 1 hour. If you have drippings from a roasted turkey, spoon some over the top about 30 minutes into the baking time.

— Recipe by Kim Severson, The New York Times

 

Homemade Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes

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In a recipe shared by the Idaho Potato Commission, "Fearless Dining" food blogger Sandi Gaertner enhances the flavor of mashed potatoes with cream cheese. / Photo from the Idaho Potato Commission

The addition of cream cheese makes these mashed potatoes extra creamy and rich. This recipe will feed 8 to 10.

6 cups russet potatoes, peeled

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

8 ounces of cream cheese (full fat)

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoons salt

teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 cup milk

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Chop the peeled potatoes into 2-inch chunks. Add to a pot, and cover halfway with water.

Cover, and bring to a boil. When the water starts to boil, turn down the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the potatoes are softened. This will take about 15 minutes.

In a frying pan, add olive oil and garlic. Sauté for 3 minutes.

Add in cream cheese, butter, spices and milk. Stir frequently. Simmer until the cream cheese is melted.

Drain the potatoes into a colander.

Add the potatoes to a large bowl, and pour the cream cheese mixture on top.

Use an electric mixer to whip the potatoes into a creamy soft mixture. Make sure there are no lumps.

Spread the potato mixture into a casserole dish, and sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes to blend the flavors together. Serve hot.

— Recipe from "Fearless Dining" food blogger Sandi Gaertner via the Idaho Potato Commission

Email Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com.

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