The idea of oyster dressing came to America with British colonists, but it truly flourished in New England, where oysters were plentiful and cheap. So, even though oysters seem fancy to us now, back before the mollusks were over-harvested and our waters become polluted, they were so commonplace as to be a popular protein in many dishes. Nowadays, however, the dish really does sing of indulgence, and is perfect for holidays like Thanksgiving.
We’ve been working on perfecting our oyster dressing (a.k.a. stuffing, if you’re not from the South) recipe for years now, and this Thanksgiving, I think we’ve done it! This recipe is my fiancé’s synthesis of an easier boxed stuffing hack his father used to make for the family on Thanksgiving and a popular, more dressed-up recipe from 1992 on Epicurious, with our own added touches. It’s smoky and salty from the oysters and bacon, and the toasted cubes of bread absorb just enough of the oyster juices and stock to be impossibly creamy and crunchy at the same time.
- 1 lb. Italian or French bread, cut into 1” cubes
- ½ lb. bacon, cut into ½” slices
- Olive oil, as needed
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 ½ cups celery, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 3 TBSP chopped fresh thyme (or 1 TBSP dried thyme)*
- 1 TBSP chopped fresh sage (or 2 tsp dried sage)
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ½ cup sherry
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 2 tsp hot pepper sauce (I recommend Cayenne Garlic Tabasco, homemade, or a similar vinegar-based sauce)
- 2 (8-oz.) cans oysters, chopped, with juices reserved (about 2/3 cup juices)
- 1 (3.75 oz.) tin smoked oysters, chopped
- 1 cup turkey or chicken stock, preferably homemade
*if using dry herbs, roughly grind in a mortar
- Preheat oven to 325F. Spread the bread cubes evenly on a large baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, turn the bread cubes, and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden. Set to the side to let cool in a large mixing bowl.
- Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a 12” iron skillet over medium heat for 10 minutes until crisp. Remove the bacon to some paper towels, reserving the fat.
- Add olive oil, if necessary, for a total of ¼ cup fat in the skillet. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté the onions, garlic, and celery for about 5 minutes, and add the thyme, sage, salt, and pepper. Deglaze with the sherry and add butter and pepper sauce. Let cook for another minute until the butter has melted; add to the large mixing bowl with the bread cubes, bacon, parsley, and oysters. Add the reserved juices and stock, and toss well. (Note: if you have more or less than 2/3 cup juices, adjust the stock accordingly.)
- Add the whole mixture back to the skillet, cover with aluminum foil, and transfer to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, uncover, and bake for about another 20 minutes until nicely browned.