Growing up I remember getting in the car (the station wagon where the back seat faced the rear – anyone remember those?) with my family, Dad, Mom, Sister (Belinda) and Brother (Chris), and heading out to visit my Carolina grandparents in Wilmington, North Carolina. For some reason when I was little, I started calling them “Carolina Grandad” and “Carolina Grandma”. My grandparents had very little and lived in a house that was falling in all around them. Funny how when you are younger those things don’t really mean that much to you. No matter the condition of the house, it was filled with love from my grandparents.
My grandfather, Wilbur, was a shrimper and he would sit on his front porch for hours fixing shrimp nets. That is one of my best memories with him, sitting on the front porch listening to his stories. My grandmother, Rosie, worked at the elementary school across the street in the cafeteria. My grandmother would make us fried fatback (I know – terrible for you), white butter beans and homemade biscuits. Such a simple meal but oh so good!
One of my favorite things my grandfather made was fried blue crabs in brown gravy. You would eat the crabs with your hands, picking through the meat with gravy running down your hands and licking your fingers. Definitely, not a meal you want to eat in public. During that time, fresh seafood was in abundance and not expensive like it is now. Summertime meals in Wilmington, almost always included seafood in some form or fashion and was loved by the entire family.
I credit my love of seafood to my Carolina grandparents and oysters are my very favorite seafood. I could eat oysters everyday – steamed, roasted, in stew, in chowder, fried, and of course in oyster dressing. For that reason, I decided to feature a oyster dressing. I have always been partial to traditional oyster dressing particularly when it’s made with smoky cured pork and oysters. If you love oysters, you have to try this dressing.
So funny story. I woke up Sunday morning all excited about sharing this recipe. I knew I needed a nice loaf of artisan bread so I headed to LaFarm Bakery in Cary, North Carolina. I purchased a loaf of rustic Italian bread. I then headed over to Earp’s Seafood Market to pick up some fresh oysters. Once I arrived back at the house I started unloading the car. While I was taking some groceries in the house, Benji (Amanda’s dog) apparently jumped in my car and found the nice loaf of rustic Italian bread and decided that would be his lunch. Amanda and I came outside to find the neighbor’s chasing Benji around trying to get the loaf of bread out of his mouth. (This is my crazy life – you can’t make these things up). After having a good laugh about it, I then went into the house to figure out what I was going to use for the dressing. I had these wonderful plump oysters and driving back to LaFarm would have been a over an hour round trip and not one I wanted to repeat. After thinking it over I remembered we had leftover bagels from the day before. I thought well its this or nothing and decided bagels would work just fine (or so I hoped). The dressing in these pictures were made from day old bagels and I have to say it really was delicious.
Oyster StuffingCourse: SidesCuisine: Southern
Savory dressing made with with smoky cured pork, oysters. and fresh bread is sure to please.
11 cups 1/2-inch-cubed rustic Italian bread (about 14 oz.)
6 slices thick sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
6 shallots, finely chopped
40 medium oysters, shucked (about 1 lb.), with 1 cup of the liquor
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves
2 tablespoon chopped sage leaves
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1⁄4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat oven to 250˚. Arrange bread cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake, stirring occasionally, until dried but not browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
- Put bacon into a large skillet; cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until crisp and its fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. Add 6 tablespoons of the butter and heat. Add shallots, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add oyster liquor, stock, thyme, sage, Tabasco, nutmeg, cloves, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the bread cubes and oysters. Set aside to allow the flavors to come together for 10 minutes.
- Raise the oven temperature to 400˚. Transfer mixture to a buttered oblong baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, remove foil, drizzle with remaining butter, and continue baking until golden brown and crusty, about 15 minutes more. Serve immediately.