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Recipes and Stories

26 November 2014: Mastering Thanksgiving IX—Cornbread for Dressing and Stuffing

Skillet Cornbread for dressing: the hardest part will be restraining yourself from eating it all before you can make the dressing!

Before tackling the stuffing or dressing, a quick word about tradition, with a word (and recipe) for one of the ingredients from my own tradition.

The wonderful thing about what you put into that savory bread pudding that accompanies your turkey, no matter what you put in it and whether you bake it in the bird or out of it, is that it’s one time that sticking to tradition will win for you every time. You really don’t have to think about it, analyze it, or reinvent it—you just make it and sit back and bask in the praise.

In my family, that tradition happens to be dressing made with cornbread and stale biscuits. If you’ve never had it, why, in my opinion you’ve simply missed out on one of America’s great gastronomical inventions. Cornbread lends a hearty texture and flavor that wheat bread cannot match; biscuits give it body and help bind it. If it’s not already a part of your tradition, however, make sure your family is game to try something new.

The only hitch is that you will have to make your own bread, and will need to make it today so that it will be stale by the time you get ready to make the dressing.

Here is how to make the cornbread well.

Skillet Buttermilk Cornbread
Makes 1 10-inch round

2 cups water stone-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 cups whole milk buttermilk, or plain, whole-milk yogurt thinned to buttermilk consistency with milk or water
3-4 tablespoons rendered bacon fat, melted butter, or lard

1. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450° F. Once it reaches temperature, lightly grease a 10-inch iron skillet and put it in the oven for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the meal, soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg until it is smooth and beat in the buttermilk and 2 tablespoons of melted fat.

2. When the pan is well heated, make a well in the center of the meal and pour in the milk and egg. Using as few strokes as possible, quickly stir it together until there are no dry lumps.

3. Take the pan out of the oven and add to 1-2 tablespoons of fat to it—just enough to cover the bottom. It will sizzle if the pan is hot enough. (If it doesn’t, put the pan back into the oven for a couple of minutes, until the fat is sizzling hot but not smoking.) Immediately pour in the batter. It must sizzle when it touches the pan to achieve the fine crust of well-made skillet bread.

4. Bake in the upper third of the oven until golden brown and springy, but firm at its center, about 30-35 minutes. Immediately invert the pan over a wire cooling rack. The bread should come right out of the pan.

Normally I’d tell you to serve it right away, piping hot, with plenty of good butter, but today you’ll want to let it cool, roughly crumble or cut it into large dice, and spread it on a rimmed sheet pan so it can go stale.

Next: the art of the biscuit.

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