Cornbread Stuffing with Kale, Bacon & Pecans

Stuffing is always one of my favorite parts of the holiday. Or dressing, as the case may be.

Because there is no way in hell I’m putting something this good inside a bird. I know there are stuffing vs. dressing fans on either side of the debate, but here’s why I will never eat anything cooked while stuffed inside a chicken or turkey.

Cornbread Stuffing with Kale, Bacon & Pecans

The bird needs to be 165 degrees in the white meat and 175 in the dark to be done and safe to eat. While that giant bird is cooking over many hours, raw poultry juices are soaking into the stuffing inside the bird. Juices that are sitting in the danger zone, temperature-wise, for many hours.

When the meat is cooked, what temperature would you guess the inside of that bird-juice-soaked stuffing is? If it’s anything less than the breast meat, you’re heading for food poisoningland. I do not like food poisoningland.

Final point – how is there any way that the cavity of that bird can contain the amount of stuffing needed to feed the amount of people you have gathered? There isn’t. So let’s just skip the middleman and the E. coli, cook in a casserole separately, and call it dressing. Good deal.

Cornbread Stuffing with Kale, Bacon & Pecans

Yield: About 14 cups, serves 12

Ingredients:

For the cornbread:

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing dish
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/3 cups buttermilk
  • 1-1/3 cups milk
  • 1 cup stone ground cornmeal
  • 1 cup regular cornmeal
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

For the stuffing:

  • 12 cups cornbread, broken into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 cups turkey or chicken stock
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing dish
  • 2 dried ancho chilies
  • 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 cup dried morel mushrooms
  • 1 lb slab bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 large kale leaves, tough spine removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups whole pecans, toasted

Directions:

For the cornbread:

  1. Place the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with butter.
  2. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl, whisk in the milk and buttermilk.
  3. Whisk the cornmeals, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour the wet ingredients into the center. Stir until just combined, then stir in the butter.
  4. Pour into the greased baking dish. Bake until the top is golden brown and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan, 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. Transfer baking dish to a wire rack, cool at least one hour.
  6. When cool, break 2 cups of the cornbread into 1-inch pieces and spread in an even layer on two baking sheets (there will be extra for munching). Dry in a 250 degree oven for one hour.

For the stuffing:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast chilies in oven until puffed and fragrant, about 6 minutes. When cool enough to handle, break chilies into large pieces, discard stems and seeds. Place chili pieces into a small bowl, cover with boiling water until soft, about 25 minutes. Drain and dice, set aside.
  2. Place dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water until soft, about 25 minutes. Drain and chop roughly. Set aside.
  3. Place the dried cornbread in a large bowl. Whisk together the stock, half-and-half and eggs in a medium bowl. Pour liquid over the cornbread and fold very gently, being careful not to break the cornbread into smaller pieces. Set aside.
  4. In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until nearly crispy and fat is rendered, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, set aside.
  5. Add onion to the skillet, saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add celery, saute about 5 minutes more. Add mushrooms, cook for 2 more minutes. Add garlic, cook until fragrant, about a minute.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low, add kale to skillet (in two batches, if necessary) and cover until kale wilts slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Transfer skillet mixture to a large bowl, add chilies, and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Add skillet mixture to the cornbread mixture and mix very gently. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to allow flavors to blend, 1 to 4 hours.
  8. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 10×15 baking dish or two 9-inch square dishes with butter and transfer cornbread mixture to baking dish. Sprinkle with pecans and reserved bacon.
  9. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve immediately.

The big question – stuffing or dressing?