There are many examples of Britain and America being divided by their common language. Some seem exotic like a short stack of pancakes. some seem amusing such as the confusion between suspenders and braces and some are just baffling. Why did Americans always talk about eating dressing at the Thanksgiving meal when there was no salad on the plate?
It turns out in this context dressing is another word for stuffing. Momentarily clearer until you realise most dressing is made from cornbread. I’ve tried repurposing cornbread crumbs by combining with them with liquid and the memory still haunts me. There is no word can do that level of stodge justice. I remained confused as to why anyone would eat it willingly even if they genuinely like green bean casserole.
Everything became much clearer last year when I went to my first ever Thanksgiving lunch, hosted by my co editor at the Brixton Blog, Lindsay. An ex pat American living in south London, she’s a food writer and fantastic cook. As well as turkey so moist and juicy we all had thirds, she served stuffing and I discovered that Americans make it totally differently to the British and Irish version.
Big squares of pillowy soft bread are mixed with flavourings such as sausagemeat, herbs and dried fruit and combined with beaten egg and stock before being baked. It has similar flavours to our traditional stuffing, but it’s much lighter yet crispier round the edges and I loved it so much I asked for the recipe when I emailed to thank Lindsay for her hospitality.
Sadly this year I haven’t found any Thanksgiving dinners to gatecrash so instead I’m just going to use the date as an excuse to eat stuffing til I’m, well, stuffed. I’ve made the Thanksgiving stuffing with pumpkin, kale and cranberries from Slow Cooked again (see page 127) and this time am trying a dressing style stuffing in the slow cooker as well with sausage, apple and sage. Any excuse…
Slow Cooked Dressing (serves 4-6 as a side dish)
- 150g caramelised onions
- 450g sausages, preferably something with sage
- 100g bacon or pancetta
- 600g stale white bread or 300g cornbread and 300g white bread, cubed
- 1 apple, peeled and diced
- 50g dried of fresh cranberries
- 25g fresh sage, finely chopped or 1 teaspoon dried sage
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- salt and pepper
- 25g melted butter
- 300ml chicken stock
- 2 eggs, beaten
The onions are important. You’ve either already turned to page 122 of Slow Cooked and followed the recipe there (or at the linky above) and have some gorgeous caramelised onions about your person or you need to roughly dice one large onion and sweat it in butter until golden for about 40 minutes. Set aside until needed.
Slice your bread into decent doorstops and from there into 1 inch cubes. Mine were a bit too big and some pieces remained slightly soft rather than crisping up enough, giving a slight hint of savoury French Toast to it all. I used a white batch loaf from the supermarket which was going a bit stale and then left the cubes of bread to sit for a while to dry out further. As long as it isn’t soft and squidgy, it’ll work well here. Put the bread into a large bowl.
Put the bacon or pancetta into a hot pan and without moving it about too much, allow it to get a lovely sticky caramelised feel to it on one side. Mine took about 4 minutes but watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. Tip the bacon and any lovely bacon fat into the bowl of bread.
Skin the sausages and break the meat up into big lumps. Using the same the pan, cook the sausagemeat for 3-4 minutes on one side without moving it too much. Again you want caramelisation before it all goes in the slow cooker, but you don’t need to cook the sausages the whole way through.
Take them off the heat and mash the sausagemeat with a potato masher to get the right texture. You don’t need to do this if you are using sausagemeat rather than skinned bangers, but for some odd reason I can only get this in England around Christmas time. Add the sausagemeat to the bread and bacon.
Peel and chop the apple and add along with the cranberries, onions, sage, mustard and cayenne pepper. Mix it well so everything is evenly dispersed. Fresh cranberries are especially good here but I couldn’t get any. Melt the butter and pour it into the mix. Add the chicken stock and the beaten eggs. Stir well to coat the bread well. Leave to sit for 5 minutes to allow it to settle.
Grease your slow cooker crock well with more melted butter or a flavourless oil. Don’t use olive oil. I also don’t like the spray oils people seem to favour for the slow cooker. You need to use so much to grease the crock properly I can always taste it afterwards. I’ve never bought cake release spray because frankly I see no reason not to use butter but some people swear by it.
Check the bread. If any of it seems dry, add a splash or two more of chicken stock and then tip it all into the greased crock. Don’t press it down, but just leave it as it is. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 3.5 – 4 hours on high. The very edges of mine were burnt at 4 hours but everyone’s slow cooker cooks slightly differently so best to check after 3.5 hours.
Serve straight from the crock as part of a Thanksgiving meal or roast dinner or heap a bowl full of it with some gravy on the side for the ultimate comfort food. It reheats brilliantly and I had some of the leftovers next morning with a poached duck egg on top. This is one where the Americans are ahead of us. I’ll be trying it with leftover cornbread next time and hoping that this is the dish that takes from pulled pork as the UK’s Americana of choice!
Extra treat for you all today: you can win a spare copy of Slow Cooked and an utterly gorgeous cast iron slow cooker from Netherton Foundry here at The Happy Foodie (closing date 23/11/14.) I don’t mind telling you I am green with envy whoever gets this stunning slow cooker. I might just invite myself round for dinner in fact…