Dressing, a traditional mainstay of the holiday meal which outshines all the other side dishes. The traditional South Louisiana Dressing is an oyster dressing, usually with sausage and giblets. Add the distinct flavor of Sage and you have Sweet Daddy D’s Oyster Dressing.
In South Louisiana, Dressings come in as many varieties as Gumbo and everyone has their favorite. The traditional aspect makes it special. It’s rarely served outside of the holidays and usually made from a matriarch or patriarch’s recipe, passed down through generations. I’ve been making this recipe for decades, but it’s roots are in the family kitchen of my youth, when my father would make his dressing the night before Thanksgiving. I can still see him chopping the onions and still smell that comfortable aroma of onions, oysters and sage cooking in butter. Although I never saw a written recipe for his dressing, I patterned mine from it and continue the tradition. I even use the same frying pan that he did! Tradition.
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Here’s What You Need
There are a lot of flavor drivers in this recipe. These grouped ingredients are for the Dressing but note that there are a few separate ingredients for the stock listed at the end. The stock is optional, so you may choose to skip those.
- Proteins (See Notes on Ingredients below):
- Turkey Giblets
- Bulk Pork Sausage (I generally use Jimmy Dean Pure Pork Sausage-Regular flavor)
- Yellow onions (or any sweet onion)
- Green onions (also called Spring onions or scallions)
- Other ingredients:
- For the Herb and Spice Blend:
- Dry Thyme, Oregano and Basil
- Kosher Salt (See Hints and Tips about the salt)
- Fresh Ground Pepper
- Bay Leaves
- Fresh parsley
- Fresh Sage (See Notes on Ingredients below)
- If you make a stock with the giblets, you'll need these in addition to the ingredients above:
- Yellow onion
- Bell peppers
- Fresh herbs (in addition to those herbs listed above)
You’ll need a large frying pan and a couple of 9” X 13” baking dishes, or other similar baking dishes, a stockpot and small food processor or chopper to prepare the giblets and a saute pan for the oysters.
Notes on the ingredients:
- The giblets from your turkey play a key role in this recipe. Remove the pouch with the livers, gizzards, and heart from the turkey’s neck cavity. The turkey neck is usually in the larger cavity. If there is no giblets pack available, buy a turkey neck, turkey (or chicken) liver and gizzards. A bone-in skin-on turkey or chicken thigh can be used in place of the neck.
- Since you have to cook the giblets anyway, you just as well make the stock when you do. But, if you’d prefer to skip that step, just substitute some commercial turkey or chicken stock. Read how to do that in the Prepare the Giblets section below.
- Use bulk pork sausage. I have always used Jimmy Dean Pure Pork Sausage, but you can use your favorite if you have one. I stay away from flavored (maple, sage, whatever) because I like to control the amount of spice and seasoning.
- For the bread stuffing, it's basically stale french bread. You can make your own out of stale french bread but make sure to cut it up small pieces, but not as fine as bread crumbs. Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing works fine. If you can find it unseasoned that’s even better. Insider tip-2 boxes of Stove Top Stuffing Mix provide the 4 cups of stuffing bread this recipe calls for and it comes in pork, chicken or turkey flavors. I’ve used it many times.
- About the vegetables: You’ll need about 10 cups of onions and celery in all. Dice about 5 or 6 yellow onions and about 6 or 7 bunches of green onions-use both the green and white parts. Use at least 6 toes of garlic, chopped fine; about 5 stalks of celery, chopped (but too much makes things a little bitter) and about half a cup of parsley. Set some of the garlic and parsley aside to use with the oysters, according to the recipe. I don’t use green peppers in the dressing, but if you make the stock, use a piece in that.
- Use fresh oysters in pint or quart jars. The number of oysters in a pint will vary depending upon the size of the oysters, ranging from as few as 15 to 20 to as many as 50, but 2 pints will be 4 full cups of oysters and their delicious, briny juice. If you are shucking your own oysters, that is wonderful.
- Sage provides a distinctive flavor that is a key ingredient to this recipe. Use fresh sage (even though the other herbs are dried). If you don’t like sage you can leave it out, but I’d increase the number of dried herbs you use.
These items will help in making this recipe:
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Here’s What You Do
First...you have a beer. One of the great things about traditions like this is that family and friends participate in the preparation of the meal. Besides needing more beer, you can enlist people to help chop and measure. Read through the recipe and make sure you have all the ingredients and you know what to do with them. Here are the basic preparation steps:
- Deal with the giblets first. They can be prepared the day before and kept in the fridge, we’ll cover that in the Prepare the Giblets section next.
- Note that some of the butter, garlic and parsley will be used when preparing the oysters, so those ingredients will be divided.
- Chop and measure all the ingredients-put the yellow, green onions and celery in the same bowl. Put the garlic, sage, parsley and the Herb and Spice Blend, each in their own separate bowls.
- Strain the oysters, but keep them and their juice in the fridge until you need them. You’ll finely chop about ⅓ of the oysters just before you add them.
- Set out the pork sausage, stock, butter, bread stuffing and stock.
Prepare the Giblets
Place the turkey neck, liver, gizzard and heart in a stockpot. If you want to make the stock from scratch, add a chunk of celery, a small yellow onion quartered, a few toes of garlic chopped in half, a chunk of bell pepper, about 5 green onions. Place some peppercorns and broken bay leaves in a garni-bag. Make a Bouquet garni with parsley, fresh sage leaves, thyme, oregano, basil in twine. Throw that in the stockpot and cover everything with about 8 cups of cold water.
Bring this to a boil and simmer until it reduces by about half, which should take about an hour to an hour and a half. Remove the neck, liver, gizzard and heart and set aside to cool. Strain the stock into a measuring cup and discard the cooked veggies. It can be completed up to this point the day before, or do the next step and then put it in the fridge.
A simple substitute for making the stock is adding about 6 to 8 cups of commercial stock to the giblets and simmering for an hour. Remove the giblets and strain the stock for use in this recipe.
Once the giblets are cooled, slice off any cartilage attached to the gizzards. Pull as much meat as possible off the turkey neck with your fingers and a fork. Place all of this in a small food processor, add a little stock (maybe ⅛ of a cup) and process until a paste forms. Set this aside in a small bowl. It should be about 1 cup. All of this can be done the day before and kept in the fridge.
Now you have your giblets set aside, your spices set aside and your veggies chopped. If you haven’t figured it out already, this is a good time to have another beer. Let's get going.
Brown the sausage
In a large skillet, brown the pork sausage over medium-high heat. This will take about 5 minutes. Remove the browned sausage from the pan but leave the rendered fat. There should only be 2 or 3 tablespoons but if it looks like too much grease (like more than ½ cup) just remove some. Don't stress over this, you want that flavor!
Fry the vegetables
Melt about 1½ sticks of butter in the same pan over medium-high heat, scraping the sausage bits off the bottom.
When it’s foamy, add the yellow and green onions and celery. Mix well and cook until the onions are clear and starting to brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir often so it doesn’t stick and burn.
At this point, add the garlic and about half of the Herb and Spice Blend. Keep cooking and stirring until the garlic is aromatic-which will only take about 3 or 4 minutes.
Add the sausage, giblets and stock
Add the sausage back to the pan (plus any liquid that has accumulated in the bowl) with the bay leaves and about ⅔ of the sage. Mix well and let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
Next, stir in the giblets, parsley, the rest of the sage and more of the Herb and Spice Blend. Mix well to combine.
Reduce the heat to low and cook another 10 minutes while the flavors meld. Keep stirring so it doesn’t stick. At this point, mix in about 2 ½ cups of the stock (reserve the rest) and the remaining sage; increase the heat to medium-high and bring it to a heavy simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the bread
Keeping the frying pan on the heat, reduce it to low and mix in the bread completely. Stir often for about 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, cover and let it sit while you prepare the oysters. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare and add the oysters (or "Ersters", as Aunt Dorothy used to say)
Finely chop about ⅓ of the oysters. Melt ½ stick of butter in a large saute pan over high heat. When it starts to foam, add garlic until it’s aromatic, 2 minutes.
Add the oysters (chopped and whole). Sauté until the oysters are curling up then toss in the parsley. This will take only 5 to 10 minutes total, and may need to be done in batches depending on the size of your pan. This will make a lot of nice buttery oyster liquid.
To add the oysters to the dressing, use a slotted spoon so you don’t add a lot of extra juice yet and stir each spoonful of oysters to thoroughly combine all the ingredients.
When all the oysters are mixed in, spoon some (about ½ cup at first) of the oyster juice and mix it all together. The dressing should be moist with a dense consistency, and not too loose. If it’s too dense, add some more oyster juice. Taste for seasoning.
Time to Bake
Prepare the baking dishes by spreading softened butter on the insides, then spoon in the Dressing and smooth the top. [See Hints and Tips about making the Dressing ahead].
Place the baking dishes in the 350-degree preheated oven and bake for about 30 minutes until it is bubbly on the edges. If it starts to brown too quickly, lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the baking dishes in the oven.
That’s it, simple as that.
Hints and Tips
- How I have screwed this up in the past! This recipe takes some time and there are lots of steps and ingredients, but it really is pretty simple. The most likely ways to mess up, and I know from experience, is adding too much salt in the beginning (see the next bullet point!), adding too much stock and adding in ALL of the oyster juice at one time. In reality, you likely will not use all of the stock and the oyster juice, but it's there if you need it. Adding too much liquid will make the dressing way too moist. Just add the liquids a little at a time. If you add too much, throw in some more bread to help absorb it.
- Salt. The stock can be a source of salt and the oysters are definitely a source of salt, so I am always careful when adding more. Oysters grow in saltwater and have a wonderful briny, salty flavor which varies depending upon where the oysters were harvested. I don't add salt when making stock but commercial stock usually contains salt. For this Dressing, I do not add much salt until after I add the stock and the oysters. Taste the dressing for seasonings AFTER you add the oysters and then add the amount of salt you want.
- Why is this Dressing and not Stuffing? The only difference that I can see between the two is the way in which it is cooked. If you stuff this inside the turkey cavities and then roast it, its Stuffing. Bake it in a baking dish and serve it alongside the turkey, then it is Dressing. I realize that wars have been fought over less, but it’s really pretty simple. If Uncle Stinky wants to call it Stuffing and your couyon cousins want to call it Dressing, walk away before it gets serious and they start arguing over what goes in a Gumbo. If you do decide to stuff this into the bird before roasting, make sure the Stuffing reaches 165 degrees by the time the bird is done. Here is a list of things to know before stuffing your bird.
- This Dressing can be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator before it’s baked. Follow the recipe through the last step of putting it in the baking dish, then let the dressing come to room temperature. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. When you are ready, remove it from the fridge, let it get to room temperature and bake it as directed. You can also freeze it in the same manner. Room temperature, wrap it airtight and freeze it for up to 30 days. I have used a vacuum sealer on the entire full baking dish and placed it in the freezer. Defrost it in the fridge overnight, then bake it as directed.
- Leftovers can be refrigerated (airtight) for 3 or 4 days or frozen for about 30 days. Don’t refreeze leftovers after they have been frozen once. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight. It’s easy to reheat small portions in the microwave or larger amounts in a 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes until it reaches an internal temperature of about 165 degrees.
These items will help in making this recipe:
Here are some other Holiday recipes from Sweet Daddy D:
Can't decide? Here's a collection of some Sweet Daddy D's holiday recipes.
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Yeah You Right!
Here's What You Need
- 1 pack Turkey Giblets and neck
- 3 cups turkey stock See Instructions and Recipe Notes
- 2 pounds Pork Sausage
- 2 sticks butter Divided, plus about 2 tablespoons for the baking dishes
- 6 medium Yellow onions
- 7 bunches Green onions
- 5 stalks Celery
- ½ cup Fresh Parsley Chopped, Divided
- 6-7 cloves garlic Divided
- 4 cups bread for stuffing see Notes
- 1 pints fresh oysters
Herbs and Spice Blend
- 1 tablespoon dry thyme
- 1 ½ tablespoons dry Oregano
- 1 ½ tablespoons dry basil
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 cups chopped fresh sage chopped
- 4 Bay Leaves
Here's What You Do
Make a stock from the giblets
- Place Turkey giblets and neck in a stockpot. Add a chunk of celery, a yellow onion quartered, a few toes of garlic chopped in half, a chunk of bell pepper, green onions, peppercorns, fresh sage leaves, thyme, oregano, basil. [NOTE: These ingredients are separate and additional to those listed above for the Dressing-see Recipe NOtes for more information]
- Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, simmer for about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- Remove giblets from the stockpot, place in a bowl to cool. Strain the liquid and reserve. If this does not yield 4 cups of stock, add some commercial chicken or turkey stock. Discard the cooked vegetables.
For the dressing
- Chop all the onions, celery, parsley and sage. Measure all other ingredients.
- Reserve about 1 tablespoon each of the chopped garlic and parsley for the oysters.
- Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat and brown the pork sausage (about 5 minutes). Remove the sausage from pan; leave at least 2 tablespoons of drippings in the pan.
- Continuing over medium-high heat, melt about 1 ½ sticks of butter in the same pan, scraping the sausage bits off the bottom.
- When the butter starts to foam, add the onions and celery and mix well. Fry until the onions are clear and starting to brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir often so it doesn’t stick and burn.
- When the onions and celery have cooked down, mix in the garlic and about half of the Herb and Spice Blend. Stir until the garlic is aromatic, about 2 minutes.
- Add back the sausage with the bay leaves and at least half about ⅔ of the chopped sage. Mix to combine and allow this to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
- Next mix in the giblets, parsley, remaining sage and most of the remaining Herb and Spice Blend. Combine completely and cook another 10 minutes, stirring often while the flavors meld together.
- At this point, add about 2 ½ cups of the stock (reserving the rest); bring this to a heavy simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the bread; mix well; leave on the heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Cover, remove from the heat and let this sit while you prepare the oysters.
Now for the ersters:
- Strain the oysters into a bowl; reserve the oyster juice.
- Chop about ⅓ of the oysters.
- In a large saute pan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter until foamy; throw in the garlic until its aromatic then add the oysters (chopped and whole). See Notes
- Add the parsley and sauté until the oysters are curling up, this will take between 5 and 10 minutes and generate a lot of nice buttery oyster liquid.
- Add the oysters to the dressing using a slotted spoon letting the liquid drain through the spoon. Mix well to combine the ingredients. Add about ½ cup of the oyster/butter juice but be careful not to add too much juice-See Recipe Notes. The dressing should be supple and cohesive at this point, but not too wet. If more liquid is needed, add more oyster/butter juice and/or some of the reserved stock.
- Taste for seasoning and adjust according to your taste.
- Prepare two 9" X 13" baking dishes (or similar) by spreading softened butter inside. Spoon the dressing into the pans and smooth the top.
- Place the baking dishes in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes until it is bubbly on the edges.