Every year I use this column to profess my love for Thanksgiving. Full of traditions, food, family and dangerous deep-frying, you haven’t lived until you’ve haphazardly tossed a football over a pot of oil containing a 14-pound bird bubbling at a brisk 400 degrees F.

It’s all about being at my mom’s house, the charm of the table setting, the printed menu (which rarely changes), a little bit of wine on top of the beer we had while frying, coupled with the low level of dysfunction my family embraces.

I’ve always been sad when someone dreads the dinner table on Turkey Day, certain of family drama. I can proudly say we virtually have zero of that. In my eyes everyone is dysfunctional to an extent. I’ll be hanged if I’m going to ruin my favorite meal of the year by discussing it at the table.

Turn on the reverb and let me tell you, in my best Nostradamus voice, what the day will be. There’s the quatrain about us waiting on my sister, the last to show for lunch. Another would be my brother, who can disappear and reappear in a blink. There’s the one about which kid will read from the Bible (really about which one doesn’t have to) and the Great Deviled Egg Armageddon, where someone is keeping a tally of consumption.

It’s the same actions, same food, same jokes every year. Though I vow to keep all the years-old traditions, I intend to change things a little. Perhaps we can create more traditions. This year I am fed up that we don’t have a soup course. We never have. It’s time we start our Thanksgiving with an earthy oyster stew and finish our weekend with leftover turkey gumbo.

Odd we never made time for soup, but this recipe happens fast. You have to stay with it so the oysters don’t overcook. Friends have taken a liking to the latest tweaks to my once “off the cuff” recipe, so I’m sticking to the changes. They probably love the heavy cream and butter the most.

(Photos | depositphotos.com) Hearty soups such as oyster stew and turkey gumbo can be a welcome addition to the traditional Thanksgiving table.


Oyster Stew

Olive oil to coat
1 stick of butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery with leaves, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 quart shucked oysters, liquor reserved
½ cup white wine
1 cup cleaned and sliced mushrooms
½ cup or more chopped fresh parsley
1 cup heavy cream
Juice of half a lemon
Green onions, chopped, for garnish
Hot sauce

This works best in a skillet rather than a soup pot. I have always been fond of the Mary Mahoney version but this recipe is all mine. I think it’s a contender. It’s a situation where the parsley steals the show. You just about can’t add enough of it.

Coat the pan with olive oil and melt the butter. Add the onions and celery (love those leaves) and cook until they are soft. Add salt and pepper. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute, careful not to brown. Add the liquor from the oysters and the wine. Bring mixture to a soft boil and add mushrooms.

As soon as the mushrooms begin to soften add the chopped parsley, cooking for about 1 minute. Follow this with the heavy cream and fresh ground pepper, keeping it on the heat another 4 minutes.

When it is nice, hot and softly bubbling, add the oysters, cooking until the sides curl but no more than 2 or 3 minutes. Finish with a handful of green onions and brighten it up with the lemon juice.

Serve in bowls with hot French bread and either Crystal or Louisiana Red Dot Hot Sauce.

Turkey Gumbo

1 cup canola oil
1 cup flour
3 cups chopped separated trinity
(ratio of 2:1:1 onion, celery, bell pepper)
3 cloves garlic minced
Creole seasoning
3 bay leaves
4 quarts turkey stock (or chicken stock or water)
4 cups of turkey meat and carcass
1 pound smoked sausage sliced
2 cups of sliced okra, thawed if frozen

I did this last year with the leftover turkey carcass, taking a cue from John Besh’s book “Besh Big Easy.” Despite recent trouble in the Besh Restaurant Group, he is still one of my favorite chefs and cookbook authors. Besh is fond of canola oil for the roux, a practice I have taken to heart.

This particular roux is pretty dark and holds up well with the turkey. When picking the meat I am not afraid of the crispy bits of leftover skin. Embrace that. For sausage I am currently crazy about the Country Pleasin’ brand of smoked green onion sausage from Cooper’s Country Meat Packers in Florence, Mississippi. It’s readily available here and worth the search.

Over medium-high heat, whisk flour into hot oil, stirring until it becomes a caramel color. Add the onions and the roux will darken considerably. Stir a few minutes more and add the celery, bell pepper and Creole seasoning. When they soften, add the garlic and bay leaves followed by the stock a minute later.

Bring to a boil and add the turkey carcass and sausage. When it boils again, add the okra. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered for 45 minutes. Add the turkey meat and serve with your choice of hot sauce and rice.

I’ve been recently fond of using jasmine rice with gumbo. It’s a fast-cooking rice and works well as a roux vehicle. When it comes to gumbo hot sauce I prefer a little more heat than the previously mentioned Crystal or Louisiana brands. Tabasco has made gumbo better for years.

Fingers crossed these two soups will be good enough to find their way into the MacDonald Thanksgiving tradition. It’s putting a little more weight on my shoulders, but I don’t mind the work. Happy Thanksgiving to all! Make it count.