Oysters are the star of local Thanksgiving tables (with recipes) – Mid-City Messenger

Casamento Creole Oyster Soup prepared by Kit Wohl at Cookbook Studio (photo by Kit Wohl)

By Kristine Froeba, Mid-City Messenger

Before and since the Americans bought New Orleans from the French, New Orleans has remained unique and distinct, nearly 220 years later we still despise convention. Thanksgiving is no exception. We celebrate with oysters: Oyster Soup or Oyster Stew and Vinaigrette (you will find the recipes below).

Not just oysters, oysters seasoned in whole or in part with our “holy trinity” – bell pepper, onion and celery, the divine secret to New Orleans cuisine and even our Thanksgiving menu. We then double and add garlic, scallions, fresh herbs and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Yes, on occasion we may need to boil our drinking water, read by candlelight, or be rescued from the wandering pothole – but that’s okay, because we know our food has better taste.

New Orleans residents as a whole eschew the chicken broth-flavored stuffing in favor of a rich and dark Creole oyster dressing made with trinity. Mashed potatoes are also excluded; instead, we crave long-grain white rice under a heavily seasoned turkey neck and giblet sauce. Stuffed mirlitons with prawns and ham or a mirliton vinaigrette may be required by law. Even the roast turkey has been replaced by the multi-layered Turducken terrine, although many households serve both.

What is the place of Creole oyster soup in the meal? At first.

A Creole Thanksgiving begins with a slew of oyster or shrimp entrees or entrees or appetizers served before the main course or entree arrives. A cup of steamed oyster stew (or soup – the name is interchangeable) is served first.

Some families combine two dishes by serving their oyster stew in pastry shells instead of the traditional oyster pancake filling (I don’t recommend this). Others serve both oyster soup and oyster pancakes and divide the dishes with a small cold salad or shrimp remoulade. It’s all a long time before great-grandmother’s oyster vinaigrette and mirlitons make their required appearance.

If your Thanksgiving skips the tradition of oyster soup, it can still be found at a few New Orleans Creole restaurants that have been in the family for generations, like Antione’s during the holidays or Casamento’s.

Casamento’s simple, buttery version of freshly shucked oysters poached in a seasoned milky broth has been a locals’ favorite for generations – 103 years to be exact – and was prepared in-house by Joe Casamento’s grandson, Charles Joseph” CJ” Gerdes, for the past 40 years.

Antoine’s version of oyster stew is richer and more complicated, using cayenne pepper and heavy cream mixed with milk. The dish, now only on special menus, has evolved over the 182 years they have served it. Although the stew was already a French Quarter mainstay before Antoine’s restaurant began serving it in 1840, it remains one of the oyster dishes for which they and New Orleans are famous.

Arnaud's oyster soup
Arnaud’s oyster soup
Thanksgiving Recipes
Creole Soup with Antoine Oysters

50 medium shucked oysters, with 1 cup reserved oyster liqueur
12 c. Butter without salt
5 tbsp. plain flour
4 finely chopped celery ribs
4 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup finely chopped curly parsley
2 tbsp. parsley leaves for garnish
1 tbsp. kosher salt OR ½ tsp. table salt
1 1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 tsp. Cayenne pepper
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream

Combine oyster liqueur with 1 cup water in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add oysters and simmer until edges just begin to curl, about 2 minutes. Strain the oysters through a fine mesh strainer set over a medium bowl. Reserve the oysters and the cooking liquid separately.

Heat the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; add celery, garlic, onions, parsley, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the onions and celery are very tender, about 25 minutes.

Stir in milk, cream and reserved oysters with their cooking liquid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until just warmed through, about 5 minutes.

Serve immediately.

(recipe from Antoine’s cookbook)

Creole oyster stew from Casamento

¼ pound butter
1 cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp. salt
1 liter of oysters
½ gallon whole milk

Sauté the onion, salt, parsley and onions until almost translucent, add the oysters and cook until the edges of the oysters wrap around. Add the milk and bring to a gentle boil, stirring gently. Leave to cool for a few minutes then serve with the Crystal hot sauce.

(recipe by Linda Gerdes and “CJ” Gerdes de Casamento)

Creole Oyster Vinaigrette Recipe
Homemade oyster vinaigrette (Kristine Froeba)

I learned this recipe from my cousin Irish Channel Velma. It was her mother’s from the 1800s. (My great-grandmother’s oyster dressing, also unchanged for over 130 years, includes the addition of finely chopped ground beef or chicken livers.)

2/3 cup butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
2/3 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green pepper
2 large yellow onions, chopped
3 cups small torn French bread
1 egg lightly beaten
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 pint oysters, reserve oyster liquid*
Black pepper
1/8 tsp basil
1/8 tsp sage
1/8 tsp thyme
italian breadcrumbs
1/4 cup melted butter

*buy extra oyster liquid if possible

Start by buttering a 2-quart casserole or baking dish. Put aside. Drain the oysters, reserving every precious drop of liquid. Cut the oysters in half if they are large.

Saute the trinidad (bell pepper, onions and celery), cayenne pepper and salt in the butter and olive oil over medium heat until tender. Then add the parsley and sauté for another minute. Add chopped garlic towards the end, for a modern version.

Add the liquid from the oysters and stir over low heat for another 4 minutes. Add the oysters, stirring gently with a wooden spoon until the oysters just start to roll up. Watch carefully and do not fully cook the oysters. They will continue to bake.

Remove from the heat, 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 for 20 to 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Those who wish to include the dish without cooking it can order an oyster vinaigrette from Langenstein, then top with breadcrumbs and butter before cooking. Their version is the closest to the Creole original.

happy thanksgiving – Happy Thanksgiving!

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Rozella J. Cook