Everything I know about cornbread dressing—and Thanksgiving—I learned from my mother, which she in turn learned from her mother. It is a long line of resourceful Southern cooks, and I trust them with this important meal completely. The secret?
It's all about the butter! My very wise nanna once said, "Whatever the amount of butter called for in a dressing recipe, double it, triple it, heck, even quadruple it!"
So here it is: I am giving you our family recipe, a true American classic that has been passed down through the generations, and is the result of many years of tweaking, testing, and perfecting. This is truly as Southern as it gets. With two sticks of butter, five cups of chicken stock, and five eggs, I can promise you it's the moistest, most delicious cornbread dressing you'll ever taste. In fact, I guarantee it.
One more thing. Nanna's cooking lesson stuck with me as a little girl, long before I ever understood anything about calories, fat, diabetes, and heart disease. And while I don't double up on the butter every day, Thanksgiving is definitely not the time to be cutting out the good stuff. And besides, nanna lived to be a 103 and ate fried chicken until the very end. I'd say she was a very wise woman indeed.
Southern-style Cornbread DressingServes 10-12
For the buttermilk cornbread:
1 cup plain yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup whole buttermilk
For the cornbread dressing:
1 (14 ounce) bag herb-seasoned stuffing, preferably Pepperidge Farm*
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, divided
2 cups finely chopped sweet onion
1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery
5 cups chicken or turkey stock
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons dried sage
Salt and pepper
For the buttermilk cornbread, grease a 10" cast iron skillet and place on center rack in the oven. Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, melted butter, and buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated.
Pour the batter into the preheated skillet and smooth the top. Bake until cornbread is golden yellow, about 16 to 19 minutes. doesn't overcook or dry out. Immediately remove the cornbread from the skillet and allow to cool.
The cornbread can be made up to 2 days in advance when using for the dressing. Store until needed, then crumble and follow instructions for the dressing.
For the cornbread dressing, preheat oven to 350°F.
Crumble the cornbread into small pieces (makes about 5 cups). Combine the crumbled cornbread and stuffing mix in an extra large mixing bowl (or stock pot) and toss to combine.
Melt 1 stick butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 10 to12 minutes. Add the onion and celery to the cornbread mixture.
Melt the remaining stick of butter. In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, chicken stock, eggs, and sage, and whisk to combine. Add to the cornbread mixture and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Bake, uncovered, until the dressing is set and golden brown, about 45 minutes to 50 minutes.
*Pepperidge Farm stuffing may not be available to everyone or you may prefer not to use it; biscuits (homemade or store bought) make a good substitute.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)