Oyster Dressing

If I had to name one dish that is Skip's signature holiday dish, this is definitely the one.  Oyster dressing is not only popular with our family, but also on the holiday tables along the Louisiana Gulf Coast.  This dressing is well seasoned and infused with the briny flavor of oysters by adding whole oysters, puréed oysters and oyster liquor. The liquid that is naturally inside the oyster’s shell is the oyster liquor.   Shucked oysters are packaged in this flavorful liquid.  The texture of this dressing is unlike one made with large cubed bread, or a dressing made with store bought Italian style bread crumbs.  Our recipe calls for whole loaves of Reising’s bread made by the Leidenheimer family.   In New Orleans, the Leidenheimer family has been making French bread, with its crispy crust and light interior, for over a century.  During the holiday season, bags filled with chopped bits of this airy bread are sold in local grocery stores, and often added to oyster dressing. You, too, can create these home-style breadcrumbs to get the perfect texture for this dressing, I first crisp the whole loaves, and then thinly slice the crisped loaves, followed by a coarse chop. This coarse crumb will add a firm, but pudding like texture to this iconic New Orleans dish.  If you aren’t able to get this brand of bread use your local brand of French style bread.  Please don’t use finely ground store-bought Italian style bread crumbs, because it won’t yield the same results. One of my favorite tips is to make the bread crumbs in advance, store in re-sealable freezer bags, and freeze up to 2 months.  Simply remove from the freezer and add when you prepare the dressing.  Ok, so my absolute favorite tip is that you can make this dressing, freeze it and simply thaw and reheat.  The flavors beautifully blend after being frozen.  Simply thaw in the refrigerator overnight.  Spread in a baking dish, add a few splashes of broth, pats of butter on top and bake at 350° until bubbly and brown on top. 

 

Oyster Dressing

Servings: 10-12

Home-style Breadcrumbs

28-ounce loaves Reising's or Leidenheimer’s New Orleans French bread (about 2 ½ feet long each)

Dressing

64 oz. containers of shucked oysters (containers totaling 64 oz. should yield about 4 cups oysters  and 4 cups oyster liquor)

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (plus extra for coating baking dish)

1 ½ cup of celery, chopped

1 cup of bell pepper, (preferably a mixture of red, yellow and green) chopped

3 bay leaves

1 ½ cups green onions, chopped

1 cup parsley, chopped

2 Tablespoons fresh garlic, minced

2 teaspoons Italian herbs

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

1 ½ teaspoons Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoons black pepper

Home-style Breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 300° and place rack in the center of oven.  Cut loaves of bread the length of baking sheet. Bake until crispy in the center and no longer soft, flipping bread half way through cooking time, about 45 minutes.  Loaves should become crispy throughout and brown very little. 

2. Slice crisped bread into thin slices about ¼-inch thick.  Coarsely chop the slices being careful not to over chop into a fine crumb.  Do not substitute store bought Italian style bread crumbs. 

Dressing

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Butter a 9"x13" heatproof glass baking dish and set aside.

2. Pour the oysters into a strainer over a medium bowl and reserved 1 cup of the oyster liquor.  Refrigerate the oysters and oyster liquor.  (If you don't have 1 cup of oyster liquor, transfer the drained oysters into a bowl and cover with water and refrigerate.  As the oysters sit in the water they will release residual oyster liquor, flavoring the water.  Drain the oysters when you are ready to add them to the dressing.  Reserve enough residual oyster liquor to add to the already reserved oyster liquor, totaling 1 cup).  

3. In a large Dutch oven, melt  4 Tablespoons butter over medium heat.  Add celery, bell pepper and bay leaves and sauté until bell pepper and celery are softened, 8-10 minutes.

Turn off heat and add green onions, parsley, garlic, Italian herbs, poultry seasoning, creole seasoning, salt and pepper and stir until combined.

4. Add 1 cup of the oyster liquor and half of the whole oysters into the pan with the sautéed seasonings.  

5. Place the remaining half of the oysters into a blender, and pulse a few times just until the puréed.  Pour into the pan with the sautéed seasonings, and stir to combine.

6. Turn on heat and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring frequently, until oysters are plump and edges are curled, about 3 minutes.

7.  Reduce heat to low and, add the breadcrumbs in batches allowing the bread to soak up the seasoned liquid. The dressing should be firm as the oysters will release more liquid while baking. 

8. Spoon the dressing into the buttered dish. Top with the remaining 4 Tablespoons butter, thinly sliced.   Bake in the preheated oven until the edges are bubbling, about 30 minutes. Stir well folding browned bottom bits throughout and bake until bubbling, 15-20 minutes. Place under the broiler until browned, about 1 minute.  Serve warm.

Do Ahead: Home-style breadcrumbs can be baked, chopped and frozen in re-sealable freezer bags up to 2 months.

Baked and completely cooled dressing can be stored in re-sealable freezer bags in the freezer up to 1 month. Simply thaw in the refrigerator overnight.  Spread in a baking dish, add a few splashes of broth, pats of butter on top and bake at 350° until bubbly and brown on top.