Rappahannock River Oyster Co. Cornbread Oyster Dressing
by Hannah Lee Leidy
Cornbread Oyster Dressing
[korn-bred ois-tər dre-sin]
n: A dish typically served in the coastal South during the holidays
Among all the iterations of dressing (ahem, stuffing for some people) using white bread, wheat bread, or cornbread; filled with sausage, mushrooms, and oysters leads to a concoction distinctive to the coastal South: cornbread oyster dressing.
Wordsmiths would argue that stuffing is cooked inside the bird, while dressing is baked alongside or on its own; but south of the Mason-Dixon Line, dressing is the name of the game regardless of preparation. To put it simply, oyster dressing is traditionally found where oysters are; it’s eaten up and down the East Coast from New England to the Lowcountry and around the Gulf. The dish becomes distinctly Southern when it includes cornbread. It likely found its home on the winter holiday table because the cooler weather meant the oysters were less susceptible to bacteria (cue the “R” month rule).
Nowadays, thanks to refrigeration, it’s safe for us to enjoy them year-round, but the tradition of gobbling oyster dressing during the holidays has stuck. On the Virginia coast, Travis and Ryan Croxton are all about oysters. The cousins and co-owners of Rappahannock River Oyster Company are reinvigorating the Chesapeake Bay oyster trade and celebrating the bivalves at their restaurants. Their recipe for cornbread oyster dressing is worthy of a place at your Thanksgiving table.
Make the cornbread: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, melt butter, remove from heat, and stir in sugar. Add eggs and beat until blended. In a bowl, combine buttermilk with baking soda then pour into skillet, combining with egg mixture. Stir in cornmeal, flour, and salt. Pour batter into a greased 8-inch pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely, then cut the cornbread into 1-inch cubes. Place on a lined baking sheet and toast in a 300 degree oven until almost golden and dry to the touch.
Make the dressing: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine chopped oysters and their liquor, cornbread, and parmesan. Mix well and let rest. In a heavy pot, melt butter over medium to medium-high heat. When butter is melted, add bacon and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Add celery, onions, and chicken stock and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 10 minutes until celery and onion are soft. Add minced herbs, coriander, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Combine oyster and cornbread mixture with vegetables. Transfer mixture into a buttered dish and bake until top is golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.