3 Tried-and-True Tips for Making the Best Cornbread Dressing
There are as many types of Thanksgiving dressing (what some of us call stuffing no matter whether it cooks inside the turkey or a baking dish) as there are hometowns and families. That being said, many Southern dressing recipes are built on a foundation of cornbread. Here are a few pointers on making cornbread dressing that's memorable for all the best reasons.
Use Stale Cornbread
If there is ever a time when we want our cornbread to be at least one day old and stale, it's when we're making dressing. The coarsely crumbled or cubed pieces should feel slightly dry to the touch. They should be too firm to squish into a dough ball, but not so hard that they feel like salad croutons or pieces of gravel. The point of the stale bread is to ensure that it doesn't simply dissolve and lose all character in the dressing.
If making homemade cornbread for your dressing, consider the texture of the cornbread. It's going to be an ingredient, not table bread. Some of us love the dark, crusty edges that come from baking cornbread in plenty of bacon drippings in our trusty cast-iron skillet, but those same brown edges and that smoky, bacon-y scent might not be as delightful in a pan of dressing, so consider trimming away that dark crust or opt for a buttered baking pan for this one batch of cornbread.
If purchasing cornbread for your dressing, be sure to taste it to make sure it's not too sweet to use. Some corn muffins made from mixes or purchased from a deli counter are as fine-crumbed and sweet as pound cake. Whether one enjoys eating sweet cornbread is a personal choice that is separate from whether one would enjoy sugary-sweet dressing.
Use the Right Amount of Liquid
Some families prefer dressing that's crumbly enough to tumble onto the plates in loose chunks. Others prefer dressing that is solid enough to cut into tidy squares, while yet others want dressing so soft that it requires a spoon.
For dressing that's on the drier side when served, add enough warm stock to the uncooked mixture to evenly moisten all of the ingredients, but not so much that there is standing liquid in the bottom of the mixing bowl. If the baked dressing turns out too dry, drizzle a little more warm stock over the top before serving, or count on the turkey gravy to camouflage the shortcoming.
For soft dressing, add enough warm stock to make the ingredients the consistency of thick cooked oatmeal. Some cooks add a can of cream of chicken or cream of celery soup to their dressing recipe to ensure it turns out moist enough to slice or scoop.
For the most flavorful dressing, no matter the recipe, use flavorful stock, preferably homemade. Most store-bought stocks and broths have little, if any, turkey flavor. Avoid reconstituted bouillon cubes or concentrates that can be very salty and sometimes surprisingly sweet.
Use Enough Fat
Dressing shouldn't be greasy, but if it's too lean, it can taste dry no matter the amount of liquid used in the recipe. Some cooks like to skim the fat from their homemade turkey stock to use when cooking the aromatic vegetables for the dressing, although butter is always a delicious option.