Rouse In House: Tastes Like Home

With Thanksgiving comes that usual Big November Argument, and this year it might be more heated than usual because of the two choices available. Everyone’s opinions are set firmly, which means persuasion is out the window, and all that’s left are acrimony and indignation. We’ve been apart for so long, our opinions on the thing have been solidified on social media, and add in the absurdly high levels of stress we’ve experienced this year…well, dinner conversation is going to be ugly. I’m talking, of course, about whether it’s called “dressing” or “stuffing.”

Let the debate end before it begins. What is it called? The answer is: It depends — and not on what you expect. As it turns out (contrary to longtime thinking on the subject) a dressing that is stuffed and baked inside of a turkey is not called a stuffing. Similarly, a stuffing baked in a casserole dish is not a dressing. I’m not sure how to break this to you, but the words are interchangeable, and dependent entirely on where you are from. People in the North call it “stuffing.” People in the South call it “dressing.” It’s like soda versus pop versus Coke.

Knowing the terminology, if your in-laws are from out of town and you want to keep the peace, just nod at their weird Northernism. If you like a little friction with your turkey, when they say, “Wow, this stuffing is great!” smile and nod and say, “Yes, this dressing certainly is,” and everyone can take a long sip of wine in silence.

Here’s the good news: The dressing (I mean that’s what it should be called) can be neutral ground. Because unlike Karen’s green bean casserole, Rouses will prepare your dressing for you, making it one fewer item to manage in the chaos of a Thanksgiving kitchen.

“We offer three basic varieties,” says Mike Westbrook, the deli director for Rouses Markets. “Corn bread dressing; a shrimp and mirliton dressing; and an oysters Bienville dressing. The latter two are classic New Orleans Thanksgiving dinner dishes.”

Rouses means local, and the dressings are no different. “For the shrimp and mirliton dressing, we use locally grown mirlitons and Gulf shrimp,” he says.

It is tossed in Creole seasonings and prepared with French bread crumbs. The oysters Bienville, meanwhile, is made with Gulf oysters. It is simmered in sweet butter with the holy trinity — onion, celery and bell pepper — and a with kick of Creole seasoning. The corn bread dressing is made with the sautéed trinity, plus garlic and butter, all tossed with Cajun spices and mixed with sweet corn bread crumbles.

The dressings are longtime staples of Rouses going back well over a decade. They only appear in Rouses delis during the holidays — November through New Year’s, and occasionally at Easter. (Mike says that during the Lenten season, Rouses also offers a crawfish dressing.) The dressings are part of a broader selection of Thanksgiving Dinner options. That’s right: Rouses can do everything except eat the food for you — unless you invite us over. (Please invite me over.)

“You can buy a basic dinner and a larger, deluxe dinner,” says Mike. “Everything is also sold à la carte, for customers who might want to roast their own turkey, for example, but come to the deli to get the sides, taking some of the pressure off of the family.”

The sides are sold by the pound, offered in individual sizes all the way up to two pounds. (Two pounds of oysters Bienville will feed a family of six, unless they are really hungry.)

All of the dressings are old Rouse Family recipes — and the Rouse family takes food very seriously. Every year before the big rollout begins, Donny Rouse, the third-generation CEO of Rouses Markets, sits down with the store chefs and other family members, and they taste each recipe, and together in the kitchen they hone the flavors to meet the standards laid down by Anthony Rouse, the founder of Rouses Markets.

“Every year we try them to make sure the flavor profiles of the dishes haven’t changed,” says Mike. Not every crop or creature of the sea tastes the same from year to year, and spices and ratios have to be altered to accommodate for such variations. “This is something where the family tries the product and everybody has to sign off, saying this is the holiday product that we are proud to serve to our customers.”

The Rouses chain of supermarkets is more than 60 stores strong across the Gulf Coast, stretching from Orange Beach, Alabama all the way to Southwest Louisiana. That’s great news if you are traveling to see family one or two states over: Rouses delis strive to ensure that every order of dressing tastes exactly as it is supposed to, whether you order it in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Diamondhead, Mississippi; or West Mobile, Alabama. In other words, if you are in charge of the oysters Bienville dressing this year, don’t worry about it defrosting in the car. The dressings come refrigerated in the deli section, prepackaged as grab-and-go items. To make sure there’s still some left when you get to the store, you can order ahead and pick it up when you get there — wherever there is.

The dressings come fully prepared but need to be reheated, which is a breeze. First, preheat your oven to 350ºF. Transfer the dressing to an oven-safe dish and bake for 30 minutes. Then use an oven thermometer to check the internal temperature; the magic number is 155ºF. If it’s still a little low, let the dressing bake for another 10 minutes, then check and repeat until you’re there. This will put a nice crust on top of each of the dressings. (You can also microwave them — they even come in a microwaveable container — but beware: no conventional oven, no crispy goodness.)

Look, you need to be careful when doing all this, because when it’s ready and you pull the dish from the oven, it’s going to be hot. The most important step is to take the empty Rouses dressing container and throw it in the outside trashcan, so that you can take full credit for preparing the dish without worrying about anyone discovering your clever ruse.

“What I find interesting about the holiday dinner table in the southern part of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast is that there is a lot more seafood on the dinner menu than you would traditionally find elsewhere,” Mike says. The shrimp and mirliton and oysters Bienville dressings can intimidate home cooks who might otherwise prepare them from scratch. Ordering them premade by Rouses allows families the chance to try something a little more daring and a lot more local, with less fright from an already fraught kitchen holiday.

Mike explains that the shrimp and mirliton, with its local ingredients from local farms and fisheries, is a wonderful side. Meanwhile, the oysters Bienville is a particular treat for out-of-towners who don’t necessarily know what Louisiana cuisine is all about. It is brimming with local oysters and flavored with lots of oyster liquor. In other words, if you want something a little bit different, and with a Louisiana flair, it’s the perfect item.

“These dressings are holiday classics,” says Mike.

“They are some of our best-selling products in the deli. We sell out of shrimp and mirliton and oysters Bienville every year — they are two of our most requested items.” Every year the deli prepares more and more dressing to keep up with demand, and every year, he says, they sell more than the year before.

“We expect to double the sales of shrimp and mirliton this year. And you know, it just continues growing a bigger and bigger fan base.”

Maybe this is the year your family becomes a fan. Even if some people insist on calling it “stuffing.”