I have lived near the Gulf all but six of my almost 50 years and can’t imagine a holiday meal without Gulf Coast Seafood. The holiday season is all about gathering friends and family together for a time of fellowship, and here in the South, nothing brings folks together like big helpings of good food. In my home, and growing up in my parents, we never skimped on the stuffing. Fresh regional oysters are a must. This year they will come for Bon Secour, Alabama, and this recipe is straight from Alabama Gulf Seafood, courtesy of the fine folks at Gourmet Magazine. Enjoy!
Herbed Gulf Oyster Stuffing
12 cups Italian or French bread in ¾-inch cubes
½ lb sliced bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 cups onion, finely chopped
1½ cups celery, chopped
3 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 tbsp dried)
1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
1 tbsp garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
⅔ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
18 Alabama Gulf Oysters, shucked, drained and chopped
2¼ cups turkey giblet stock or low-sodium chicken broth
Olive oil (if needed)
Start out by spreading the bread cubes in 2 shallow pans. Once the oven is preheated to 325 degrees, stick the bread pans in the upper and lower shelves of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes; they should come out golden brown. Halfway through the baking process, make sure you switch the position of the pans.
Once the bread cubes are done, let them cool on the baking pans, then switch them to a large bowl.
While the bread cubes are cooking, you’ll have ample time to cook the bacon and prepare the onions, celery, garlic and herbs.
Once you’ve chopped and minced everything that calls for it, set those ingredients aside and focus on the bacon. Slide the pieces of bacon into a heavy, 12-inch skillet and cook them over moderate heat while stirring every now and then. When the bacon is nice and crisp, switch it over to drain on a pad of paper towels. But don’t get rid of that reserve fat!
Next up, you’ll be adding the chopped ingredients to the same skillet where the bacon was cooked. But before you do, check the amount of reserve fat that’s leftover; if there’s less than ¼ cup of fat, add some olive oil until there’s roughly ¼ cup’s worth in the skillet. Now you’re ready to add in the onions, celery, thyme, sage, garlic, salt and pepper, which you’ll cook for 8 to 10 minutes over moderate heat. Stir the mixture every now and then, and make sure the vegetables are softened before you remove the skillet from the heat. Set this mixture aside for a moment to let it cool.
Now it’s time to combine everything; you may want to use a new bowl, but we decided to bake the stuffing in the same skillet we’ve been using.
First, combine the onion and celery mixture with the bread cubes. Then stir in the bacon, parsley, butter and fresh Alabama Gulf oysters. (Many chefs will emphasize using flat-leaf parsley, but we used curly. Either one will do just fine.) Top it off by drizzling the stuffing with turkey stock or chicken broth, seasoning with salt and pepper and tossing it until everything’s good and mixed. (If you’re cooking a turkey as part of your meal, we’d highly recommend drawing a turkey stock from the giblet and neck.)
Once you’re ready to cook the stuffing, cover whatever baking dish you’ve chosen with tinfoil and bake it on the middle rack for 30 minutes. Once the time has passed, take the tinfoil off and bake the stuffing for an additional 30 minutes ‘til it’s good and browned.