Chef Dean Fearing falls into a reverie when he recalls the mountainous portions served up at his family's Thanksgiving meals in eastern Kentucky during his childhood. Fearing says it took his grandmother, whom he called Ma, three days "with a bun on her head and a little, frilly apron, cooking off of a GE four-burner gas stove" to prepare her massive menu of homemade Southern treats: Two farm-raised turkeys, a barn-aged country ham, a relish tray, cranberry dressing, stuffing, mashed potatoes, beets, peas, casseroles, carrot cake, coconut cake, chocolate cake, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, chess pie, and homemade ice cream.
"The greatest part about country cooks in eastern Kentucky: There was only salt and pepper," he says. "It was straight-up cooking."
Comfort food classics inspired Fearing's menu at his eponymous restaurant in the Dallas Ritz-Carlton. Two standouts that have become particular favorites among customers are his sweet-potato-biscuit dressing (Yankees call it stuffing) and bourbon-jalapeño creamed corn, which he claims is the result of surprising culinary kismet: "It's just one of those combinations of flavors that really work."
Fearing has experimented with traditional bread-cube stuffing, but relies on caramelized sweet potatoes and biscuits, explaining that they enhance the sweet and buttery flavor of the dish. "If I was going to make this tonight, I would even add some sausage, some jalapeños, maybe make it half biscuit, half corn bread," he says thoughtfully. Family tradition lives on.
Bourbon-Jalapeño Creamed Corn
(Serves about 6)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 6 ears sweet corn, shucked, cleaned, and kernels removed
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
- 1 oz Jim Beam bourbon
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Salt to taste
- Cracked black pepper to taste
- Lime, to taste
Bring a large sauté pan to medium-high heat. Add oil and shallots, sweat without color for 1 minute.
Add corn and jalapeño to pan and sauté for 4 minutes.
Add bourbon and carefully flame mixture to burn off alcohol. Lower heat and cook for 2 minutes or until liquid is reduced in the pan.
Add cream and simmer for 6 minutes or until thick. Season with salt, pepper, and lime juice to taste.
Caramelized Sweet Potato–Biscuit Dressing
(Serves about 10)
- 3 large sweet potatoes
- 15 day-old buttermilk biscuits, well dried out
- 2 tbsp olive oil or bacon fat
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 3 cups rich chicken stock or turkey drippings
- 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- 1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 425°F. Place sweet potatoes on sheet tray and put in oven. Cook potatoes until very soft and caramelized, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Carefully peel skin off each potato by hand, leaving each piece whole. With a knife, cut potatoes into large dice. Set aside.
In a large bowl, break up the dried biscuits into small pieces. Set aside.
Heat a medium sauce pot over medium heat. When hot, add oil then onion, and sauté for 4 minutes or until onion is transparent. Add chicken stock, thyme, and pepper and bring to a boil. When boiling, pour mixture over the broken-up bread. Stir to combine. Carefully fold in diced sweet potatoes, and mix to combine. Season with salt.
Place dressing in a buttered 2-quart casserole. Smooth top. Place in preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes or until firm and light brown. If dressing begins to get too brown, cover top with foil. Serve hot.