This Cornbread Dressing with Smoked Bacon and Pecans will become a permanent dish on your Thanksgiving table. It’s delicious, it’s memorable and your family will thank you for it. If you’re Southern you may even have leftover cornbread sitting around. If not, you can make it fresh like I did.
My mother always taught me to always make it in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. Of course, you can bake it in anything but there is a nostalgia for me that bubbles up each time I make it as she taught me. It’s the start of the best dressing you will ever have. No recipe can ever surpass the quality of its ingredients. That’s why mother’s dressing was always the best – she started with homemade cornbread.
Let’s Set the Table
This year we decided to set the table outdoors beside the marsh. It makes it easy to social distance and makes everyone feel safe. This is a fun table for just about any event but I think the yellows and blues are ideal for our Thanksgiving dinner marshside.
Start with Homemade Cornbread
Make your own cornbread and why not? It’s a few simple ingredients and a cast-iron skillet. Let’s make some authentic, quality cornbread and start with freshly milled cornmeal that’s organic. There will be 3 times as much cornmeal as flour.
Buttermilk- a sacred ingredient in the South, tangy and flavorful. I remember my grandmother dunking her cornbread in a big glass of buttermilk. She loved it!
Bacon fat: Cornbread made with rendered bacon fat makes for a unique and wonderful eating experience. I learned this from the South’s premier chef, Frank Stitt of Birmingham, Alabama. Frank tells us to heat up the bacon fat until it’s super hot, and mix it into the batter. He also says to heat up your cast-iron skillet and have it sizzling hot – 15 minutes in a 425-degree oven – this ensures a crisp and golden brown crust. Here’s all you will need.
When using this cornbread for the dressing, make it the day ahead.
2 cups self-rising yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup buttermilk
scant 1/2 cup rendered bacon fat, or vegetable oil if preferred
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Preheat an 8-9 inch cast-iron skillet in the hot oven. Place cornmeal and flour in a large bowl and stir in the milk and buttermilk a little at a time with a wooden spoon.
Meanwhile, add the bacon fat to the skillet and return it to the oven, and heat until the fat is very hot, about 5 minutes.
Remove skillet from the oven and pour all but 1 tablespoon of the hot fat into the cornmeal mixture and stir. Add the egg and stir to combine. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the hot skillet and place it in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and unmold.
Cornbread Dressing with Smoked Bacon and Pecans
Often when looking for a very special idea for a dish, I turn to Frank Stitt to see what he thinks. He never disappoints.
This recipe is inspired by the famed chef Frank Stitt of Birmingham. He has also been named to the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.”
He always uses Applewood bacon and so do I!
1/2 cup pecan halves
4 ounces applewood-smoked bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
4 green onions, chopped
6 1/2 cups crumbled cornbread
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper