Turkey and Dressing is important to me. It’s a meal that gets cooked once a year and in my mind it needs to pretty much dazzle. So I go to a lot of trouble to make it a shining meal for my family. Turkeys are kinda’ seen as the star of the show but they can be dry, so I brine mine for exactly 10 hours before roasting. But the dressing in my mind is really the star. This is where a creative cook gets to shine. I am pretty well known for my dressing (not stuffing, we ain’t stuffing this nowhere) and there is a reason for that. It’s so good I have seen someone (who shall remain nameless but you know who you are) sit down and eat THREE full platefuls of dressing and gravy, THREE, it was amazing to behold. But I get it, I get to eat it for 4 or 5 days after thanksgiving, this person was leaving my house the next morning.
So… here is the secret. The stock that you make has to have tremendous flavor, so lots of herbs, spices, and root vegetables plus chicken breasts, thighs and turkey legs (bought separately, you don’t want to de-leg your turkey).
2 large or 3 medium chicken breasts boneless skinless
4 chicken thighs again boneless skinless
2 turkey legs
1 turkey neck, heart, and gizzard, (this adds so much flavor to the stock, but I don’t actually eat those parts)
1 package(2/3 oz) whole fresh thyme (it’s a good handful if you grow your own)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary about 6” long
1 package (2/3 oz) of whole fresh sage, crushed a bit with your hands to release the flavors (again good handful) use the stems etc we are going to strain the stock.
1 very large yellow onion, size of a softball peeled and cut into chunks.
8 stalks of celery trimmed rinsed and cut into chunks, use the inner parts with the leaves they have loads of flavor.
2 carrots cut into big chunks
7 fresh bay leaves
1 Large tablespoon of whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon rubbed dried sage
1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon of white pepper
6 to 7 32oz boxes of chicken stock, I use 2 low sodium, 2 chick broth, 2 chic stock. Now I don’t view this as cheating, naturally I would rather use homemade stock, but I give myself a break and buy the box kind, I use Swanson it has good flavor. And remember with all this other stuff in here we a kicking this boxed stock up to flavorville. Put all this in a LARGE stock pot bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, it needs to simmer for about 4 hours at least. Its fills your house with a heavenly fragrance.
This stock is the backstory to my Thanksgiving goodness. All good stories have a backstory, sometimes you don’t even get to know what the backstory is, but it informs the story in a way that enhances the characters and the plot. Just like this stock enhances the food I cook.
I use the poultry meat in my dressing and gravy and I combine the strained stock with the Roasted turkey drippings to pour over my dressing components before I bake it and to make giblet gravy.
Next part, chicken livers…
This is the secret ingredient to my dressing. I know… I know some of y’all don’t like liver, get over it, you’ll never know it there, but it gives a depth of flavor and yes, “umami” to the dressing that just sends it over the top.
Take the turkey liver out of the giblets package and sauté it with about ¾ pound of chicken livers gently in a skillet until they are done (i.e. no longer bloody) set aside to cool. Do not overcook they will turn to rubber. Or refrigerate until you need them, if its going to be longer than 30 minutes.
Now the bread part. I grew up with cornbread dressing and I love it, but my favorite is a combination of both bread and corn bread dressing.
1st make a cake of my cornbread in a 8” or 9” round iron skillet if you can, but a cake pan will absolutely do just fine.
Heres the recipe for Candies Cornbread
Preheat Oven to 420 degrees (I know it sound’s hot, but this is a quick bread, they need hot and you want a crispy crust)
put 1 stick of salted butter(use real butter) in a 9″square or round pan, like a good heavy cake pan, if you have a 9″cast iron skillet you are gonna have an extra degree of wonderful, put it in that warming up oven to melt the butter. But keep an eye on it.
crack 2 large eggs (need I say fresh) in a med size ceramic bowl, I use Egglands Best eggs because they are the freshest I can find, as I no longer have a coop of my own, beat them up slightly with a fork.
Keep you eyes on the melting butter, you want it to brown slightly and sizzle but not burn!
Add 1 2/3 cups of fresh WHOLE buttermilk to the bowl (Purity Milk in the yellow carton is what I use) don’t use the 2% buttermilk its not as good. Beat that in good, I use a long tine fork.
Add 1 3/4 cup of White Lily Self Rising Buttermilk Cornbread Mix (flour is included in the mix so its lighter) it has GREEN writing on the front (they sell White Lily everywhere now so you should be able to find it, go ahead and get the 5 lb bag you’re gonna want to do this again) Mix that well until its smooth and thick about like pancake batter, if its too thick add more buttermilk. If it’s too thin add more cornmeal.
Check the butter, it should be browning and sizzling, if it burns throw it out and clean the pan and start again, burnt is gonna ruin the whole pan of cornbread. (yes I have burned the butter!) Once it has melted and browned carefully take it out of the oven, swirl it around the pan to coat the sides good and pour in into the bowl of batter, this is why you use a ceramic bowl, and it WILL sizzle when it hits, stir the butter into the batter good and pour the whole thing back in your pan.
Stick it back in that hot oven and it will rise and turn golden brown on top. As for how long you cook it, well… until it’s done. Generally about 15 to 20 minutes, but stoves vary so keep an eye out. Some folks likes to turn it out onto a plate so the crust stays crisp, but let it cool a few minutes before you do that, this is really moist cornbread and you don’t want it to fall apart on you.
Set cornbread aside to cool a bit.
Sauté on med low heat two very large onions (softball) diced ¼ inch square with 20 stalks of celery diced ¼ inch square in 1 stick of butter, the regular salted kind, until celery and onions are translucent. At this point add
3 heaping teaspoons of rubbed sage
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 large bunch of fresh sage leaves chopped fine aprox ½ cup chopped
1 large bunch of thyme leaves (pulled off the stems)chopped fine about ¼ cup,
cook 30 seconds more just to release the herb oils and flavor,
Combine 1 pkg of Pepperidge Farm Country style cubed stuffing with 1 pkg of Pepperidge Farm Cornbread classic stuffing in a large bowl. Crumble in about 2/3 of the cornbread you just made, pour the sautéed celery, onions and herbs of top of that.
Take your cooked chicken livers and mash them up one by one ( I use my hands) removing any and all connective tissue so that all you are going to end up with is the crumbly meat part. Sprinkle that over the top, finely dice all the poultry meat from the stock, reserve 1 cup for the gravy and put the rest in the dressing.
With your hands mix it well all together and put it into buttered pans LIGHTLY, do not mash it down.
It is at least two 9”X 11” pans of dressing.
When the turkey is done, take the pan drippings and mix them with the strained stock. Take cupfulls and pour it over the pans of dressing until it is moist not dripping. Bake dressing at 350 degrees until golden brown and set.
So heres the deal, most people aren’t going to go to this much trouble to make this. I also felt that way when I published my recipe for 7 hour Coconut cake. But if you ever do make it this way, you probably will make it this way forever.
Then the gravy is super easy, bring stock and pan drippings to a simmer, melt 1 stick of butter and add ½ cup of S.R. flour and combine it until smooth, temper it with a ½ cup of stock, then add gently to simmering pot of stock, if it lumps, get out the immersion blender, once gravy has thickened, add about ½ cup of half and half crème and shredded, diced chicken and turkey meat left from the stock we made. I also add sliced boiled eggs to the gravy when I serve it, because that’s how we do it in the south and man is it good that way. You end up with about 3 quarts of gravy maybe even a gallon, and y’all know you need that much cause if your food don’t float you ain’t got enough gravy yet.