When people speak of Thanksgiving Dinner, dressing seems to be
the most discussed item on the menu. Many cooks say that they make twice as much
as needed, because their families love to raid the icebox for leftover dressing
and gravy. It is one thing which a gracious guest must praise lavishly; the
usual expression being that it is preferred to the turkey. Of course, it is good
at any time of year, and I recommend having it as a treat on other occasions.
If this is your first year preparing the feast, and you are entertaining
relatives from both sides of the family, choose a dressing which is different
from that used by either mother-in-law. Anything else will be seen as an implied
criticism to someone's culinary skill. You must NOT use one family's recipe in
preference to the other's. Do not take this bit of advice lightly; a tactful
choice of dressing is essential to a happy holiday meal.
The most important decision to be made about dressing is which base material to
use. Preferences about this are often regional, and usually inflexible. In the
Northeast and Midwest, bread crumbs or potatoes are the norm. In the South and
Far West, cornbread crumbs or wild rice are more popular choices. If the
creative cook wishes to vary things a bit, it is best to stick with the base
which is traditional for your family, particularly because children like to see
things the same each time.
With all of this in mind, I offer my own version of the festive delicacy. It
should be used as an inspiration. If you dislike something, leave it out. If an
ingredient is dear to your heart, add it. The basic combination of starch, sage,
and thyme: maybe varied in a hundred delightful ways.
The trick to a good dressing is to have as many things in it as possible. Some
of the ingredients I suggest may seem incongruous, but they do work together. I
always cook the dressing in a separate casserole from the turkey. A process that
lets you do it the day before, is much safer than stuffing the bird, and also
makes the roasting time of the turkey considerably less.
The special taste of dressing baked in the turkey comes from the fat which is
absorbed during roasting. You can duplicate that by using rendered chicken or
turkey fat to brown the ingredients which will be added to the base.
4 cups wild or white rice cooked in chicken broth,
6 cups bread or cornbread crumbs,
4 cups diced boiled potatoes
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 bunch parsley, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
3/4 cup raisins
2 large apples, diced
2 large oranges, peeled and diced
3/4 pound turkey sausage, cooked, drained, and crumbled
2 cups chicken broth if using bread, 1 cup with other bases
2 generous tablespoons poultry seasoning
seasoned salt and lemon
pepper to taste
1/2 cup chicken fat or margarine
Get out a large Dutch oven and put it on top of the stove. Put in the chicken
fat, or margarine. Start by browning the onions, celery, and mushrooms.
Toast the walnuts or pecans by stirring in a dry skillet until brown and add
them to the mix.
Add the apples and parsley, and then cook until the apples are slightly tender.
Add the remaining ingredients, and stir to mix them. Herbs become more mild with
prolonged cooking, so do be generous.
Now, add the chosen starch base, and mix until thoroughly incorporated. The
mixture should be wet. At this point, you can put it in a well-greased casserole
until you want to bake it. Just spoon it in, don't pack it or it will lose
texture and turn to paste. It will shrink quite a bit in volume while baking.
This can be baked the day before and reheated in the microwave. When you are
ready to bake, cover and place in a 350 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours, until
brown on the top and sides.