Kristine Froeba: The New Orleans Thanksgiving Table

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Creole Dressing, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Rice, or Macaroni?

150 year old family Creole Oyster Dressing, the recipe is below and it’s good! Shrimp and Ham Stuffed Mirlitons share the table in a cast iron skillet. (Kristine Froeba)

The countdown to a New Orleans Thanksgiving dinner has begun. The old guard, as we know, still serves Oyster Dressing along with their roast turkey. However, an influx of newcomers might be changing the local menu.

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Many families might serve all five of the above. And don’t forget the Ham and Shrimp Mirliton Dressing or Steen’s-laden, Praline-Topped Sweet Potatoes (mini-marshmallows are reserved for children).

No matter the generation, our local Black community rarely leaves the Macaroni and Cheese off of their buffets. Rectangular pans of long or short macaroni with eggs whisked right into the butter, milk, and cheese create a fluffy dense soufflé. The dish will likely sit next to highly seasoned Beef and Pork Rice Dressing aka “Dirty Rice” and Creole Green Beans stewed with Tomatoes and Ham.

It may be a shock to a new New Orleanian, but most families also serve rice. Long grain white Rice and Gravy is about as old-school Creole as you can get.

Family culinary traditions rule most Thanksgiving, but perhaps, more strongly at New Orleans’ tables. Here menus inspire passion, debate, but always inclusion. When in doubt, add another dish to the sideboard.

Our city’s population has changed post-Katrina. If you’re a legacy New Orleanian, you may have even added potatoes to your grocery list this year—and not for an Au Gratin. If you’re a transplant, you may now incorporate Louisiana’s Black, Creole, and Cajun cooking in your holiday menus.

A fluffier modern take on New Orleans’ Oyster Dressing from Breaux Mart. (Kristine Froeba)

While pre-chopping my Trinity for Thursday, I remember that brash year as a college student when I prepared roast garlic mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. It was an incredibly over-complicated Martha Stewart recipe. The matriarchs were aghast. I had sullied the table. There was still Oyster Dressing, and the potatoes were luckily delicious, but my addition was considered heresy.

Have times changed? Sound off below.

For the purists or newly curious:

Authentic Creole Oyster Dressing Recipe

I learned this recipe from my Irish Channel cousin Velma, aged 93, post-Katrina. It was her mother’s from the 1800s. (My Great-Grandmother’s Oyster Dressing, also unchanged for 100 plus years, includes the addition of finely minced ground beef.)

2/3 cup butter
olive oil
2/3 cup chopped celery
1 cup green bell pepper chopped
2  large yellow onions chopped
3 cups French Bread torn small
1 egg slightly beaten
2 Tbsps. parsley chopped
1-pint oysters, reserve oyster liquid (about 20-25 small oysters)
*buy extra oyster liquid if possible
Black Pepper
1/8 Tsp. Basil
1/8 Tsp. Sage
1/8 Tsp. Thyme
Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter

Start by buttering a 2-quart casserole dish or baking pan. Put aside.

Drain the oysters, reserve every precious drop of the liquid. Cut oysters in half if large.

Sauté the Trinity (bell pepper, onions, and celery) cayenne and salt in butter and olive oil over medium heat until soft. Next, add the parsley and sauté for another minute. Add minced garlic toward the end for a modern version.

Add the oyster liquid and stir on low heat for another 4 minutes. Add the oysters, stirring gently with a wooden spoon until the oysters barely begin to curl. Watch carefully and do not fully cook the oysters. They will continue to cook in the oven.

Remove from stove, slowly adding the French bread, remaining seasonings (fresh is best), and egg. Fold into a baking dish, sprinkle with seasoned breadcrumbs, and dot with remaining butter.

Bake 20-30 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

For the less experienced, busy, or those who would like to try the dish without cooking, you can order Oyster Dressing at Langenstein’s. Their version is the closest to the Creole original.

Whichever Turkey accompaniment you choose, Happy Thanksgiving!

Kristine FroebaKristine Froeba is a fourth generation Uptown girl whose varied background includes food and travel writing, celebrity ghost writing, public relations, social media management, fundraising, preservationist, reluctant tabloid hack, and litigation specialist. She describes herself as part foodie, part writer, part historian, historic renovation zealot, and full time dabbler.

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