A recent conversation...
- Classmate: So, do you make some awesome dish for Thanksgiving?
- Me: Well, my absolute favorite part of the meal is the dressing. My family has this special dressing with sausage. In fact, I brought back a special sausage from the south, because the sausage we've tried up here doesn't compare.
- Him: So, is this some kind of gravy?
- Me: No, it's dressing. You know, dressing. As in, Turkey and.
- Him: Like a salad dressing?
- Me: (Realizing now that the kind of dressing that I'm talking about is a foreign entity to him) Hmmm. How do I explain? I guess it's like stuffing. But it's not stuffing. We don't put it inside the bird.
- Him: So it's stuffing, but you call it dressing?
- Me: Yes, but it's not stuffing. It's different. We don't put it inside the bird. And it's made with cornbread. In a casserole dish...
What I told him is true, though. It is the best part of the Thanksgiving meal. And the sausage that we use? Well, there's just no comparison to Conecuh sausage. If you live anywhere in the Southeast, try to get your hands on some. If you can readily get your hands on some, I am jealous of you. We brought enough back with us at the end of the summer to last us until our trip home at Christmas, including enough to make this dressing. If you aren't blessed to have access to this wonderful gift, use the best spicy smoked sausage that you can find.
I will be honest with you; this dressing does require a little bit of time to put together. But it can be made in advance and frozen for several weeks, making the actual day of the feast much simpler. And the praise you will receive is well worth the effort.
Cajun Cornbread Dressing
From my Mom's kitchen, adapted from Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen
For the cornbread:
2 cups buttermilk
8 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups self-rising cornmeal
1 cup Aunt Jamima buttermilk pancake mix
2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a large skillet or 9 x 13 baking dish. Combine all ingredients and bake for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
For the dressing:
3 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
6 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups finely chopped onions
1 ½ cups finely chopped bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 bay leaves
1 pound link smoked sausage
1 14 ½ oz. can chicken stock or homemade chicken or turkey stock
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
6 eggs, beaten
Butter two casserole dishes, one large (9 x 13) and one small (8 x 8).
Thoroughly combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Boil sausage in a pan in 2 inches of water for 12 minutes. Drain the water and grind the sausage in a food processor. Set aside.
In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic and bay leaves. Sauté about 2 minutes on high heat. Add seasoning mix and continue cooking until vegetables are barely wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ground sausage and stock; cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn off heat. Remove bay leaves.
In the large bowl, crumble the cornbread. Add the milk and eggs, stirring well. Add the vegetable and sausage mixture to this and mix well. Divide the dressing between the two buttered casserole dishes.
Bake at 350 until brown on top and bubbly in the middle, about 45 minutes.
Freezing instructions: If you decide to make this in advance and freeze it, wrap it well with aluminum foil and freeze. To defrost, move the frozen casseroles to the refrigerator for 36 hours. Put the defrosted casseroles in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 350 and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until bubbly. Do not overbake.