Oyster Dressing: A coastal tradition for the holidays
By LIZ BIRO Coastal Review Online
a cook on the North Carolina coast gets through the Thanksgiving or
Christmas season without thinking about oyster stuffing.
name itself evokes visions of plump oysters hidden in a fluffy blend of
herbs, breadcrumbs and rich stock, a dish so luxurious it begs a silver
dish rather than a place inside the holiday turkey.
stuffing is a Southern dish that sounds American. Pilgrims found
oysters up to a foot long when they landed in the New World. Alas,
nothing about Thanksgiving traditions seem to match true history, as is
the case with oyster stuffing.
“While Native Americans may have
combined oysters with grains and herbs we do not find evidence they
used this combination to stuff fowl. Classic American oyster stuffing
appears to have been a gift from our European forefathers,” according
to The Food Timeline.
“Culinary evidence suggests the French
originated oyster dressings in conjunction with modern cuisine (17th
century). This practice was adopted by the English and neighboring
By the 1700s, American cookbooks offered oyster
stuffing recipes, the oldest of which were printed in the southern
colonies. These days, oyster stuffing is most common in Cajun and
Creole cuisine, where oysters are plentiful and much loved, but with so
many oysters along America’s East Coast, the recipe found fans far
A recipe for "Roast Turkey” in the Boston Cooking
School Cook Book that Mrs. D.A. Lincoln wrote in the 1800s directs
cooks to add oysters to a stuffing of “soft bread or cracker crumbs
highly seasoned with sage, thyme, salt and pepper” and moistened with
melted butter, a little water and an egg.
Chopped salt pork is an option, Lincoln noted, but “stuffing is more wholesome without it,” she advised.
point is worth consideration. Surprising to diners who try oyster
stuffing for the first time is how little flavor and texture the
shellfish might provide. Their delicate taste and texture may get lost
in the bread and, if stuffed into the turkey, overwhelmed by the bird’s
flavor. If placed inside the turkey, the dish is called “stuffing.”
If baked in a pan all its own, the recipe is called “dressing,” perhaps
a better choice for this elegant dish. Plenty of oysters and their
juices given a gentle turn into plain crushed crackers is a special
treat never, of course, to be drowned in gravy.
old-fashioned North Carolina recipe is based on one Wanchese cook Nora
Scarborough contributed to "Coastal Carolina Cooking" by Nancy Davis
and Kathy Hart. The 1986 book published by the University of North
Carolina Press contains recipes from native coastal North Carolinians.
While cooks in other states suggest using cornbread, fresh parsley and
cream in the mix, North Carolinians tend to not like anything that
overwhelms the flavor of seafood. Scarborough suggested stuffing the
mixture inside the turkey and adding cooked giblets, if desired. If any
of the mixture was leftover, Scarborough cooked it in its own baking
1 box Saltine crackers, crushed 2 sticks of butter, melted 1 stalk of celery, diced 1 medium onion, chopped 1 tablespoon ground sage 1 teaspoon black pepper 1 pint whole, fresh oysters and their juices
a mixing bowl, gently combine all ingredients. Place in a buttered pan
and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until heated through.
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)