Yes, you read that correctly. Every year that my mother hosts Thanksgiving dinner, she makes two versions of stuffing, or "dressing", as she calls it. One is just what you'd expect: a mixture of croutons, spices, and onions.
The other? A thing of absolute beauty. It's oyster dressing, and it seriously MAKES the Thanksgiving meal. Unfortunately, not everyone in our family agrees. Just like the topic of Thanksgiving itself, every American has an opinion on how stuffing should be made, whether it should actually be stuffed inside the bird, and what the best recipe for the job is. This is a deep-rooted concern, one that originates quite a while ago.
This version of the quintessential stuffing was most likely developed in New York where, until the 1920s, close to half of the world's oysters were produced until over-harvesting and pollution contributed to their steady decline. There was such a surplus of oysters in New York Harbour at the turn of the last century that interest in creating interesting and elaborate oyster dishes was all the rage. In fact, until their harvest and distribution ended in 1927, 'oyster' and 'New York City' were almost synonymous with one another.
Enter Oyster Dressing, queen of stuffings. Its origins are likely much older than the oyster industry itself, possibly dating back to the 17th century when incorporating oysters into pies, puddings (not THAT kind of pudding thankfully), and other baked dishes could be considered standard weeknight fare in coastal households.
The Wampanoag, who were the native inhabitants of the area, also had their own version of this dish which incorporated ground corn and vegetables. Probably as a direct result, an interesting variation on this dish coming from the Carolinas uses cornbread instead of stale bread in equal quantities. Given my own love of cornbread, this sounds like a winner.
Did you grow up on the East coast? What kind of dressing or stuffing does your family? Do you eat it with poultry, fish, or both?
Personally, I liken throwing oysters in stuffing to putting mayonnaise or sour cream in a cake; it may sound repulsive, but the end result is remarkably delicious. Even if you're not a big seafood fan, I suspect you'll love oyster dressing for its smokey, dense, warm holiday flavor palette. And let's be real for a second: turkey isn't usually all that flavorful, so this dressing is usually the REAL star of the meal.
Because this is a recipe that is more than three generations old, it took some experimentation to make the measurements uniformly palatable. As a result, I heavily endorse tasting as you work. You may want more or less spice. A "wet dough" may look and feel a bit dryer to you than to me. No matter how you choose to create your dish, enjoy making it your own. It's your Thanksgiving, after all!
Best Ever Oyster Dressing
Yield: one 9x9" pan of stuffing
Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
1 can or 1/4 a pint of fresh oysters, strained (save the liquor)
1 pound (450 g) stale bread or unseasoned croutons
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
at least a teaspoon sage to taste
4 cups broth
Salt and pepper to taste
large mixing bowl
cast iron pan or casserole dish
Preheat your oven to 350°F or 220°C.
Spray your cast iron pan or casserole dish with nonstick spray for lining.
Strain the oyster liquor into the pot. Sit the oysters aside.
Add the broth, mix, and heat them until just boiling. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to sit until it is cool enough to touch.
While the wet mixture is heating and cooling, mix the onion, celery, poultry seasoning, and sage together in a large bowl.
Add the croutons and oysters and mix until everything is incorporated. Don't worry; it will all fit in your casserole dish! The addition of the liquid ingredients will help the croutons to shrink by about a third.
Once the wet mixture has cooled, pour it over the croutons, etc., until the bowl's contents are only just moistened.
Mix everything until the croutons are moistened throughout and the spices and vegetables have been fully incorporated. I recommend using your washed hands for this part. If you find that the mixture is too dry, feel free to add more of the warm broth as necessary.
At this stage, taste the mixture and add more spices, salt, or pepper as needed.
transfer the bowl's contents to your cast iron or casserole dish and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the stuffing passes the knife test. If you're doubling the recipe, bake for at least an hour. If you're using fresh oysters, be sure to check that your dish is cooked through to at least 145 degrees F.
Once the stuffing has cooled, use it to stuff your turkey or just enjoy it straight out of the pan. Either way, it is arguably THE best way to eat oysters.
This recipe is part of my first ever holiday meal planning series on Old Fashioned AF (visit my YouTube channel here) as part of a collaboration with Lost in the Pond. Looking for Green Bean Casserole? You can find that recipe right here. How about my Cloverleaf Rolls?
Even more Thanksgiving-themed recipes are coming soon. If you'd like to support Old Fashioned AF, become a patron today. If you like this recipe please consider pinning it, sharing it on social media, or tagging a picture of your own stuffing with #craftyvintagelady. Happy Thanksgiving!