For Nikki’s piece about Thanksgiving mains, go here.

Nothing tastes better than food that has been allowed to sit under refrigeration overnight. Also known as leftovers, it’s the best part of the Thanksgiving feast. If I could magically transform all of the pomp and circumstance of the holiday into the day after, I’d be a better person for it. Who is to say that the centerpiece of the meal has to be poultry, a cut of beef or a select portion of pork? In reality, Thanksgiving is about the fruit, vegetables and decadent starches that hold the meal together.

Andouille-and-smoked oyster dressing is the No. 1 side dish that will be on my table this Thanksgiving. I love dressing. It’s the one thing on the table I know I will eat, no matter who makes it. Barring turkey and sweet potatoes (sans marshmallows, please), it’s not Thanksgiving without it, kind of like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is going virtual this year. Our entire community is looking for comfort any place we can find it and many of us have turned to food. And if you’ve turned here looking for it, I welcome you with open arms and a whole cabinet full of baking dishes filled with the best part of the holiday meal.

One year my boyfriend’s grandmother revealed to me that she was not making dressing for our Thanksgiving meal because her other grandson was “off the gluten” and couldn’t have it. To say I freaked out is an understatement. I did not want to be rude and insist she make it, but I also didn’t want to add to the slightly chaotic day by bringing an extra dish for the table. I erred on the side of abundant caution for myself and I made a gluten-free cornbread dressing to take with us to dinner. It’s one thing to go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, but quite another to be deprived of the only side dish you really love. When the breadcrumbs settled, Grandmother ended up making a gluten-filled, celery-studded, butter-slicked dressing anyway. Crisis averted; it was one of the best Thanksgiving meals in recent memory.

Now, let’s talk turkey — specifically, let’s talk about dressing. Or stuffing. And why there’s a debate about what to call it. Stuffing is not the inedible filling of a couch or chair but a seasoned mixture of stale or dry bread cubes, vegetables, bits of meat and butter. Packed into the cavity of the bird and then cooked, dressing is the same thing only it’s cooked in a separate casserole or baking dish. Many claim the terms are interchangeable.

Here in the south, it’s most often called dressing. I grew up calling it dressing and it will always be dressing to me unless it’s inside of the turkey, or in my case, the chicken. In New England and the Pacific Northwest, it’s called stuffing, and it sometimes contains seafood like oysters, clams or mussels. Down in New Orleans, which is where part of my family is from, not only do we call it dressing, it’s got oysters and sometimes shrimp and mirliton squash in it, too. Midwesterners usually call it stuffing, even if it’s cooked separate from the turkey.

There are other debates like: pumpkin pie vs. sweet potato pie; stretchy pants vs. formal wear; jellied cranberry from a can vs. fresh cranberry sauce — I am team #CannedCranberry, but for the first time ever, I am considering making my own sauce with Grand Marnier and fresh lemon peel. But no matter what you pick, no matter how glitzy and glammed up turkey may get, just remember that the real showstoppers are the side dishes singing in the chorus.

Andouille and Smoked Oyster Dressing

Give this dressing the extra special treatment and an extra layer of flavor with the addition of canned, smoked oysters. However, the recipe works fine without them.

Yields 8-10 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ½ lb andouille sausage, diced
  • 1 stick salted butter, plus more for the baking dish
  • 1 (8-inch-square) yellow cornbread
  • 6 cups sliced and diced white or wheat bread, toasted
  • 1 cup white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 1 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth, plus more as needed
  • 2 3.75 oz tins of smoked oysters
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce, preferably Crystal
  • ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped or 1 teaspoon ground sage
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

 

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by 13-inch baking dish.
  2. Crumble cornbread into a large bowl. Add toasted bread to cornbread and toss to combine.
  3. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add andouille sausage and sauté until browned, approximately 10 minutes. Add to the bread bowl. Add onion, celery and bell pepper to the same pan. Sauté for 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with broth, and be sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Add to bread mixture.
  4. Stir together oysters, lemon juice, hot sauce, parsley, sage, salt and black pepper with the bread mixture and mix well to combine. If the dressing seems too dry, add a little oyster liquor or up to 1/2 cup more chicken broth; the mixture should be very moist.
  5. Pour dressing into the greased baking dish. Cut remaining tablespoons of butter into small pieces and scatter over the top of the dressing. Bake until top and sides are browned, 40 to 45 minutes.

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