The Best Oyster Dressing. Period.

It's not that I'm against traditions--there are many that I love--but, for the most part, I'm not very good at doing the same thing over and over, year in and year out. This is particularly true of just about anything to do with Thanksgiving.

Maybe my inability to stick to Thanksgiving traditions has to do with the years I spent working in restaurants and hotels; I worked on the major holidays. Even after I left those days behind and Mr. B and I were first married, he worked on the holidays--one year, Mr. B was in Hong Kong for Thanksgiving! Eventually, though, our lives settled into a semblance of normalcy and we went about enjoying Thanksgiving together. Trouble is, without any family nearby, we were left to our own devices.

Some years we wound up gathered around a friend's holiday table, while other years we wandered the beach and munched cheeseburgers. Other years, we cooked our own feast, roasting a turkey, mixing cocktails, watching football--just the two of us. While Mr. B was attending to the details of selecting the wine, heating up the hot tub, and setting the table, I would hum away in the kitchen creating all the glorious side dishes. And really, while the turkey is good, it's the side dishes that really make the meal.

No matter what we did from year to year, both Mr. B and I always dreamed of sinking our forks into a mound of oyster dressing--there's just nothing quite like that briny, pillowy soft goodness. Of course, I made the traditional family recipe, but along the way, I couldn't help tinkering with tradition and coming up with a recipe all my own.

It took me many years to arrive at what I consider the perfect oyster dressing. In fact, I just finalized this recipe yesterday. It's a play on the traditional family recipe, my famous mushroom bread pudding, and few new ingredients because, well, I just couldn't resist.

The final result is so delicious that I'm hoping we don't gobble it up before we get to our destination dinner table later this afternoon.
Mel's Newly Famous Oyster Dressing

1 fresh, good quality French baguette, cubed into 1 inch pieces
1 cup of thinly sliced and coarsely diced celery
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small bunch of green onions, green part only; finely minced
1 pack of fresh white mushrooms, cleaned and finely diced (1/2 cup set aside and reserved)
2 pints of fresh oysters, coarsely chopped; liquor reserved
10 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup white vermouth
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 eggs
12 tablespoons of heavy cream
8 tablespoons of Progresso Italian bread crumbs
2 bay leaves
cayenne pepper
ground black pepper

1. Melt butter in a large sauce pot and heat until just beginning to foam. Add the bay leaves.
2. Toss the celery and onions into the butter and cook until soft and translucent; add the mushrooms (except for those that are reserved) and cook until the mushrooms are soft.
3. Add the vermouth.
4. Remove the bay leaves.
5. Add the cubed baguette and using a wooden spoon, break up the bread and mix into the vegetables until the bread is soft and begins to fall apart.
6. Reduce the heat to low and add the oyster liquor to the bread; continue to push the bread to soften it.
7. Add the heavy cream.
8. Stir in the bread crumbs (you may need to add an extra tablespoon or so, to get a firmer consistency).
9. Add the chopped oysters, 2 big pinches of paprika and a pinch or two of the cayenne pepper (depending on how much of a kick you like). Turn off heat.
10. In a heavy frying pan, fry the bacon until just beginning to crisp; remove from pan and drain on a paper towel.
11. Fry the remaining mushrooms in the bacon fat until cooked; add to the oyster dressing.
12. Crumble the bacon and add to the oyster dressing; stir well.
13. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs together; stir into the dressing.
14. Butter a casserole dish and pour the dressing mix into it, distributing it and smoothing it out with a spoon.
15. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the dressing is set and the top is golden brown.
16. Let sit a few minutes before serving.


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