My Thanksgiving: Five Dishes I Can’t Live Without
By Chef Peter Sclafani
Growing up in a New Orleans restaurant family, Thanksgiving was a special time for us. My father and grandfather would take a short break from the business to celebrate and then resume a grueling schedule that lasted until Christmas. We’d get up really early on Thanksgiving morning and sneak away to go hunting -- our last chance before the spring -- then we’d come home to enjoy an incredible meal. Extended family would pour in from out of town, not only to eat but because it always seemed like somebody in our big clan was getting married over the long weekend.
This time of year, I can’t help but think about the dishes that defined my family’s Thanksgiving table growing up. I still serve many of them today.
Of all the dishes I associate with Thanksgiving, this is the one I can’t live without. My grandfather taught me that the trick to a superior oyster dressing is to use oysters that haven’t been rinsed. This way, they retain their natural briny flavor. Chopped and combined with day-old French bread, ground pork sausage, onions, garlic, breadcrumbs and my favorite herb, fresh thyme, the oysters taste absolutely divine. This is the only dressing I serve at home during the holidays.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Sweet potato casserole was essential in our house, but what I learned from my dad and granddad was that keeping the yams somewhat chunky makes for a better casserole. After you roast the sweet potatoes, blend them gently with butter, eggs, vanilla extract and other ingredients, but don’t overbeat them. While marshmallows are a popular topper in many homes, we always preferred a brown sugar pecan topping made extra crispy with the addition of crumbled Corn Flakes.
Peas in a Roux
Long-time New Orleanians will recognize this dish, which might seem strange because it forgoes fresh vegetables in favor of canned petit pois. Trust me; it’s delicious. My grandfather would start by making a roux and then add chopped onions. When they were soft, he would add the peas straight from the can, juice and all. It’s soothing, creamy and delectable and really simple.
Turkey, Oyster and Andouille Gumbo
Growing up, we would always prepare two turkeys on Thanksgiving day: one for roasting and one for throwing straight into the gumbo pot. Turkey gumbo wasn’t made the next day from leftovers; it was served with the meal itself. You can imagine how good the house smelled with gumbo bubbling on the stove and a bird roasting in the oven. Along with tender turkey meat, our gumbo always included fresh oysters, local andouille and lots of filé. It’s still the way I make it.
Late-night Turkey Sandwiches
Before we even sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, we’re already fantasizing about late-night turkey sandwiches. And you and I both know that squishy white bread is the only way to go. We like to toast it, slather it with mayo, then load it with slices of turkey, slivers of jellied cranberry sauce and a scoop of the oyster dressing. Every time I sink my teeth into this sandwich, it takes me back to all the Thanksgivings I’ve enjoyed before and how grateful I am for them.