I grew up eating dressing at Thanksgiving, not stuffing. During the holidays, the term “stuffing” is reserved for a turducken, which is a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck, and finally, stuffed inside a deboned turkey. This may seem utterly absurd, but I think it reveals a Cajun’s sense of humor quite well. Stuffing is never an option during the holidays. The matriarchs of my clan know beyond a shadow of a doubt this splendid side dish tastes better as it bakes on the side of the turkey, not inside, like God intended. Our turkeys are either smoked on the barbecue or baked in a large bladder-like bag, which allows the aromatics from celery, onions and herbs to swirl and twirl around the turkey.
For a while, I thought I was missing out on something special as every Thanksgiving feast in every Thanksgiving movie I ever saw had a mountain of golden breadcrumbs spilling out of a beautifully bronzed bird. As with all things commercial, the glitter inevitably fades and all that’s left is a void, in the case of stuffing, a bland void. Also, the cooks in my family reckon a pound of breadcrumbs lodged right smack dab in the middle of the bird means the turkey won’t cook properly, and an undercooked bird will put a damper on anyone’s holiday. These indiscretions are never spoken of but instead silently sidestepped.
I remember watching my mother prepare her delicious dressing. She would sneak some of the golden drippings from the roasting pan as the turkey rests under blankets of aluminum foil and kitchen towels covered in a strawberry print. She carefully combines cornbread, aromatics and bits of meat from the turkey’s wing until it reaches her ideal consistency, and this glorious pile of dressing is baked to perfection and is served at the right hand of the turkey. It’s creamy on the inside and crisp on the outside, just as it should be. Norman Rockwell wasn’t Southern, bless his heart. Maybe if he was Southern, the American standard might be smoking or deep-frying the big bird with dressing on the side for the holidays, or perhaps a turducken…
Bacon Cornbread & Spicy Sausage Dressing
Note: This dressing combines my favorite elements of a lovely dressing: pork, cornbread, and crispy bits. Also, you can double the bacon cornbread recipe and make it ahead of time. That way, the cornbread will be done and dusted and will not take any precious real estate in your oven day of, and you can serve the extra batch of cornbread for breakfast with some whipped butter and coffee to hold you over until the big meal!
For the Cornbread:
4 strips thick-cut bacon, finely chopped
2 cups cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 2 ¼ cups buttermilk