Cornbread dressing with maple sausage...bringing back the sweet and savory classic.
Thanksgiving is less than three weeks away and the menu for our home-cooked feast is in the planning process. Recently, I've enjoyed adding sausage to some of my recipes. Whether it's sweet Italian, maple, or plain sausage...links, patties, or summer sausage. To top it off, sweet and savory have appealed to me as well.
I asked Chef Fleming to bring back an old recipe. There was a time when adding sausage and other veggies, nuts, dried fruits to cornbread dressing was quite popular. I wanted to bring back a sweet sausage recipe so I could get my sweet and savory 'fix'.
In addition to the recipe, there are good tips throughout. I had some questions for chef and if you have them too, continue reading the interesting dialogue at the conclusion of the directions.
Cornbread dressing w/ maple sausage (Serves 8)
1 lb. sweet maple sausage
1 1/2 c onion finely diced
3/4 c celery finely diced
5 slices dried white bread
6 c dried cornbread (about 2 lbs.)
2 plus cups of chicken broth (canned or box is fine but a small pack of leg quarters makes an easy broth that will pay dividends in the final dish)
3 eggs beaten
1/4 c butter plus drippings (from sausage)
2 tsp rubbed sage or 4 tsp fresh sage chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
"Using maple sausage lends to a minor sweetness that pairs very well with this savory dressing." chef
Make a pan of cornbread the night before & break into 1” pieces & let dry on a pan over night (be sure to season the cornbread too). This is building layers of flavor for later. Tear the white bread into pieces and let it dry with the cornbread.
To make the dressing start in a non-stick skillet by adding the sausage & break up as it browns (thoroughly). Remove to drain and poor off all but 2 tbs. of the drippings (save drippings for later use). Add the onion & celery all the while scrapping up any of the brown bits. Sauté for 3-5 minutes until translucent.
In a large bowl add both breads. When onion & celery are done, add to the bread mixture along with the sausage. Beat eggs and add the reserved drippings to combine with bread mixture. Season with salt and pepper then add sage.
Mix completely and start adding broth (just as in cornbread-for a drier dressing make a drier mix and for a moister dressing add more broth). The wetter the mix the more moist it will be in the end (This is a personal choice). Add mixture to a well buttered 9x11 baking pan and bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes.
Dialogue between me and chef Fleming:
Me: That sounds fantastic! I've got a question. I've never used homemade broth. Are you supposed to skim the fat off the top of the broth or send it through a sieve?
Chef Fleming: I used to skim mine religiously. And for a good clear broth YES. What I’ve started doing lately though is to leave it & the fat rises & sets up on the top after it cools. Using schmaltz to cook in is simply amazing. Talk about layers of flavor. So it’s a personal choice but normally, yes skim it.
Me: What is schmaltz?
Chef Fleming: Oh, chicken fat.
Chef Fleming: It’s great stuff. It’s better than bacon grease. I would not joke about this.
Me: How do you use schmaltz?
Chef Fleming: I use it to sauté veggies instead of olive oil. I also use it when I make fried potatoes. Just about anything you substitute out any oil. It’s FULL of flavor & it’s not a trans fat so it’s really not worse than canola or olive oil.
Me: Interesting. I didn't know. Thanks, chef.