Cornbread Dressing and Giblet Gravy
This old-fashioned cornbread dressing is flavorful, tender and moist. Not fancy, its ingredients are simple. Grandma didn't hold with the notion that the more stuff you put in cornbread dressing, the better it is.
The heart of the dressing is the cornbread, and the following recipe produces a coarse-crumbed, flavorful base for the dressing. Serve this dressing as part of a complete dinner as detailed in Turkey and Most of the Trimmings.
For the Cornbread
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Put the bacon drippings in a 9x13-inch baking dish and put it in the oven while it is preheating. The drippings will melt while you're mixing up the batter.
- Beat the eggs in a medium bowl until frothy. Add the corn meal, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and stir to combine. Add the buttermilk and stir well. Remove the hot dish from the oven. Swirl the dish to coat it with melted bacon drippings, pour the bacon drippings into the batter and stir to combine.
- Pour the batter into the pan, and bake 20 to 25 minutes. The cornbread will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
- Make the cornbread a day before you intend to make your dressing. Leave it out, uncovered, overnight.
For the dressing
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Crumble the cornbread and white bread into a very large baking dish or pan (This is the pan you will cook your dressing in, and you need room to stir it while it's cooking).
- In a large skillet, sauté the celery, onion and green pepper in butter over medium heat until onion is transparent. Combine the sautéed vegetables with the bread crumbs and mix well. Note: The dressing up to this point can be prepared an hour or so in advance.
- When you are ready to bake the dressing, add the beaten eggs, chicken stock and turkey pan drippings, and stir. (You may need a little more chicken stock -- better if it's too moist than too dry; the uncooked dressing should be a little on the slushy side.) Add 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage, black pepper, and mix thoroughly.
- After baking for 15 minutes or so, stir dressing down from the sides of the pan so that it cooks uniformly (my mother's term was "rake through it"). Check the seasonings; that is, taste it. If you don't taste enough sage for your liking, add 1/4 teaspoon or so with a little chicken stock, stir it in, and taste again. Careful, a little sage goes a long way.
- Total cooking time should be about 30 minutes.
For the Giblet Gravy
- The Giblets: I use just the liver and pieces off the neck (I give the gizzard to the cat, and my husband eats the heart.) I always cook the neck with the turkey -- tuck it down in a corner of the pan. You can cook the liver the same way: submerge it in the broth in the roasting pan about 30 minutes before you expect the turkey to be done, or you can put it in a small saucepan, cover with a cup or so of lightly salted water and simmer it for 30 minutes. Since burner space is at a premium when preparing a holiday meal, I usually opt for the cook-it-with-the-turkey method.
- Over medium-low heat, melt the butter in a large saucepan until it is bubbly, sprinkle in the flour and stir quickly for a minute or so to cook the flour. Slowly stir in the turkey drippings and chicken stock, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the gravy is smooth and thickened. (Note about lumps: Lumps are nothing to be embarrassed about. They happen. If you've got some lumps and want to get rid of them, strain the gravy now, because you won't be able to after you add the giblets.)
- Reduce heat to low, and check the seasonings. Add salt and pepper only if you think it is necessary. Some people (me) like to add a tablespoon or two of sherry at this point. It makes a wonderful difference. Add the giblets and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- You can make your gravy early, keep it warm, and heat it back up a bit just before serving, if you like.
Note: With dressing of any kind, seasoning and consistency are crucial to the success of the dish. Tastes vary widely, and that is why approximations are given for the poultry seasoning and sage. Start with the amounts given (I don't like my dressing too sagey), and if that's not enough to suit you, add more during the cooking process when you taste it.
As for the consistency, you can always add more stock to moisten it (I like mine nice and moist -- just about the same consistency as mashed potatoes), but I've seen dressing that had to be sliced like a loaf of bread -- too dry for my liking. But you'll probably want to make it the way your mother or Aunt Sally or whoever made it.
Total time: 4 Hrs