Cornbread Oyster Dressing

Peter Frank Edwards
by Francine Maroukian - Feb/March 2010

Chef Edward Lee shares his recipe for oyster dressing

"Growing up in a fairly conventional Korean family, Thanksgiving dinners were pretty awful at best. The only part I liked were the chestnuts. We ate them roasted, boiled, mashed in sticky rice, or right out of the shell. Nowadays, I’m the master of ceremonies when it comes to turkey dinners, but I’m not ready to let go of my childhood. The warm briny oysters are the perfect foil for the earthy sweetness of the chestnuts. Throw in the country ham, and you’ve got a complex balance of salt and sweet that will stand up to all the other flavors at the holiday table—or any other time you’ve got turkey in your game plan." —Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, Kentucky

Ingredients
2 lb. unsweetened cornbread, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 12 cups)
¾ cup melted unsalted butter (1½ sticks)
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium onions)
1½ cups chopped celery (about 3 ribs)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 oz. country ham (the saltier the better), finely diced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1½ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
About 18 to 20 freshly shucked oysters, roughly chopped with liquor reserved
1 cup chicken broth
¾ cup milk
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
A few more tsp. unsalted butter
15 roasted chestnuts, peeled and rough chopped
 

Preparation
Heat oven to 400°F.

Toss cornbread cubes with melted butter and lay out flat on a baking sheet, crumbs and all. Bake in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until a nice toasty color forms on the cornbread.

Meanwhile, melt the 5 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over low to moderate heat. Stirring occasionally, sauté the onions, celery, and garlic until the onions are translucent, about 6 minutes.

Transfer the cooked vegetables to a large bowl and add the toasted cornbread, tossing gently to mix. Add the ham, herbs and spices, and oysters with reserved oyster liquor, and mix with a rubber spatula.

Warm the chicken broth and the milk together in a small pot just until simmering. Drizzle over dressing mixture and fold in. Fold in eggs.

Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Transfer the dressing into the baking dish, dot with a few teaspoons of butter, and sprinkle with the chestnuts. (The bread crumbs should be loosely stacked, not packed down tight.)

Turn the oven down to 350ºF. Bake in the oven until the edges and the top are browned, about 30 to 40 minutes, keeping the pan covered with foil for the first half of the baking time. Serve hot out of the oven.

THE CHEF'S TWIST
Oyster dressing can be traced to nineteenth-century Britain and was popular in the coastal communities of the New World. Lee updates the recipe by balancing the natural saltiness of the oysters with the sweetness of chestnuts and focusing on the quality of the ingredients. He recommends Virginia Rappahannock oysters (known for their sweet buttery taste) and Newsom’s Kentucky dry-cured country ham.

Oysters by Mail
Need fresh oysters? Here’s one of the best mail-order operations out there

Cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton have oysters in their blood. In 1899, their great-grandfather James Arthur Croxton, Jr., bought an oyster lease near Bowlers, Virginia, and the family has been selling bivalves ever since—and damn good ones. Their three native varieties—sweet Rappahannock Rivers, crisp Stingrays, and briny Olde Saltes—are all grown using eco-friendly techniques to maximize flavor and texture while sparing the fragile Chesapeake Bay environment (i.e., no dredging). If you ask the Croxton cousins, they’ll tell you their native varieties (all Crassostrea virginica) are the best tasting oysters in the world. That’s debatable. What’s not debatable is that they run a great operation, and when that box arrives, you’re in for a treat. 804-204-1709; rroysters.com

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