My family has always served dressing instead of stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner. We are dressing lovers, so there is no turkey that would contain the amount we need to satisfy everyone. Plus, we like it to be a little firmer than the gooey mess that is baked inside the turkey.
However, we are divided into two camps when it comes to the kind of dressing we like -- plain or oyster -- so we have both! I am not a huge fan of oyster dressing. I find the flavor of oysters, which I love in most any other form, to be too intrusive when I eat dressing, so I fall in with the Plain Dressing crowd on Thanksgiving.
Many fond memories are associated with Thanksgiving in my mind, but one of the sweetest is watching my grandmother and great-aunt Martha mixing the dressing. Actually, my grandmother was usually mixing, and then asking Aunt Martha to taste for seasoning. Aunt Martha cooked in her own kitchen and always brought delicious food as her contribution, but rarely did I see her cook at family gatherings. However, she was the acknowledged authority for tasting, and was happy to step in when her services were required.
As I observed this ritual between sisters, nothing appeared less appealing to me than dipping into a big bowl of uncooked puddingy wet bread. Yuck! And then, they dumped in those disgusting slimey gray raw oysters and tasted again . . . that did it! I was done! No oyster dressing for me!
Below is the recipe, the one now used by my mother and brother to create my family's favorite oyster dressing. I'm not sure which one is the mixer, and which is the taster, because they make it at home and bring it to Thanksgiving dinner at my house -- channeling Aunt Martha. I am most grateful for that, as I don't have to look at the gooey mess that delights them so much, once baked. I've tasted the Oyster Dressing and they can have it.
Afterall, there is no shortage of tempting flavors on a day devoted to goodness and plenty. And they do make a fine Plain Dressing too, so I let them bring a big batch of it, for those of us who prefer our oysters fried, or steamed, or not at all. Gobble, gobble!
THANKSGIVING OYSTER DRESSING
2 - 1# loaves Italian or sandwich bread
1 1/2 c. diced onion
1 1/2 c. diced celery
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp. thyme or 1 tbsp. fresh
1 stick butter, melted
1 pt. fresh shucked oysters with liquor
4 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste
chicken stock, if needed
1. Tear bread into pieces and allow to get stale for one day in brown paper bag or allowed to dry partially.
2. Melt butter in pan and lightly sauté onion and celery with bay leaf (discard bay leaf after sautéing.)
3. Pour butter and veggies over bread in a large mixing bowl.
4. Sprinkle in dry seasoning and toss to blend.
5. Lightly beat eggs and add to mixture.
6. Pour in oysters with liquor and fold until well blended.
7. Mixture should be creamy and wet, if not add some chicken stock.
8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes in covered casserole; uncover and bake for additional 15 minutes. Thermometer should read at least 205 degrees when done.