Thanksgiving Roast Turkey with Corn Bread Dressing

Christopher Hirsheimer

This recipe comes from a true Kentuckian, Rena McClure, who has lived there her whole life. She doesn't fuss over her turkey and doesn't bake her dressing in the bird; instead, she cooks it in a baking dish alongside. Kentuckians generally don't put sugar into their corn bread, and, like most Southerners, they use white cornmeal, never yellow. Also, tradition calls for baking it in a cast-iron skillet. Rena, who has been making corn bread since she was a child, measures most ingredients by handfuls and scoops.

SERVES 12–14

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CORN BREAD:
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 egg
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups self-rising white cornmeal
¼ cup self-rising flour

FOR THE CORN BREAD DRESSING:
1 lb. ground sausage, such as Old Folks or Jimmy Dean
1 head celery, trimmed and finely chopped
2 yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 skilletful of corn bread, crumbled
4 cups seasoned bread crumbs
4 tbsp. chopped fresh sage or 2 tbsp. dried crumbled sage
1 cup turkey stock (made with neck and giblets) or Chicken Stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. butter, softened

FOR THE TURKEY:
1 13–15-lb. turkey, neck and giblets reserved, bird rinsed and patted dry
3 tbsp. crumbled sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 yellow onions, peeled and halved
12 tbsp. butter, melted

INSTRUCTIONS

1. For the corn bread: Preheat oven to 400°. Add oil and butter to a well-seasoned 9"–12" cast-iron skillet, then put the skillet into the oven as the oven is heating.

2. Beat egg and buttermilk together in a large bowl. Add corn meal and flour and mix together until just combined. Add about ⅓ cup water to thin the batter. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven; swirl the oil and butter to coat the bottom and sides. Pour batter into hot skillet and bake corn bread until golden on top and firm to the touch in the center, about 35 minutes. Corn bread may be cut into wedges and served from the skillet at this point, if you like. Otherwise, to make Thanksgiving corn bread dressing, let corn bread cool completely.

3. For the corn bread dressing: Fry the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat, using a wooden spoon to break up and crumble the meat. When the meat has lost its pink color, about 8 minutes, add the celery and onions and cook, stirring often, until onions are soft, about 10 minutes more.

4. Mix the corn bread, bread crumbs, and sage together in a large bowl. Add the sausage mixture and, using 2 big spoons, toss mixture together. Add stock and continue tossing until well combined. Season to taste with salt and lots of pepper. Transfer to a large buttered baking dish and set aside. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350° oven for the last hour while the turkey roasts.

5. For the turkey: Preheat oven to 350°. Season turkey cavity with 1 tbsp. of the sage and salt and pepper to taste. Stuff breast cavity with 4 of the onion halves and the rear cavity with the remaining onions. Tie drumsticks together with kitchen twine. Season turkey all over with salt and pepper. Put turkey, breast side up, on a roasting rack in a heavy roasting pan. Add remaining sage to melted butter, then brush turkey all over with the seasoned butter. Add 1 cup water to roasting pan.

6. Roast turkey, basting it all over every 30 minutes or so with the seasoned butter, for about 15 minutes per pound or until skin is golden brown and internal temperature of turkey thigh registers 165° and breast registers about 180°, 3–4 hours. Transfer turkey to a carving board, loosely cover with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes. Remove twine, discard onions, and carve turkey. Serve with corn bread dressing on the side.