Most people like to stay traditional for the Thanksgiving dinner, but there are good alternatives. Sure that roasted turkey with all the fixin's is something we all look forward to, but if you are willing to go out on a bit of a culinary limb, a seafood feast can be just as spectacular.
Thanksgiving is a holiday peculiar to the United States and Canada, although the dates are different. The holiday has its roots in harvest festivals that are celebrated all over the world, and what is put on the festival table is usually dependent on the specific harvest.
That alone makes it clear that celebrating this holiday with seafood, freshly harvested from our own salty waters, should be a natural course of events. We have bushel loads of local seafood recipes that the rest of the country would do back flips to be able to serve fresh on their tables.
The "Picayune Creole Cookbook," first published in 1901, suggests a Thanksgiving menu that included oysters on the half shell, baked red snapper a la Creole and roasted turkey with oyster stuffing. So the precedent is established, and you should feel no guilt about abandoning some of the more traditional Thanksgiving dishes in favor of delicious, locally harvested seafood.
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There used to be a fellow in Biloxi, Miss., who was famous for his oyster stew. He made it every Sunday, opening the oysters in his back yard, and soon neighbors would gather, hoping for a cup full of his famed stew. The trick, or so he said, was that it was made in an old coffee can.
This recipe does not call for a coffee can, but it is quite simple and delicious.
4 dozen oysters (the larger the better)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 pint oyster liquor
1 pint cream
Salt and pepper
Green onion for garnish
Combine the flour and butter carefully, you do not want any lumps. Put the liquor in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the flour and butter mixture, be careful and whisk it in completely. Heat the cream in another pan, and after the liquor has been simmering for at least 5 minutes, whisk in the hot cream. Simmer a few minutes more to bring it all together, add the oysters and turn off the heat. The worst thing you can do is overcook the oysters. Let them sit 3-5 minutes, garnish with the green onion and serve at once.
CRAB CAKES AND ROUILLE SAUCE
The point of the crab cakes is the crab. Recipes that call for too many ingredients miss the point; all you need is delicious, sweet crab, a binding agent and just a few seasoning as highlights.
1 pound jumbo lump crab
1 whole egg
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2-3 tablespoons butter
2-3 green onions
1 pinch cayenne pepper
For the sauce
2 red bell peppers (you can use yellow as well)
1-2 cloves chopped garlic
1 egg yolk
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
Pick the crab carefully, even the best packers occasionally leave bits of shell. Place the butter in a sauté pan, melt and then add the panko, cook until well toasted. Carefully combine the crab, egg, and half the toasted bread crumbs, it should just hold together. If it is too thin, add more panko, if it is too dry add 1/2 a whisked egg. Form into patties and fry in butter just until well-browned. To make the sauce, roast the red peppers over an open flame, or under the broiler if you must. When well blackened, place in a paper bag and allow to finish cooking. When they have cooled, wash off the charred skin and place all of the ingredients, except the oil, in a blender and give it a whirl or two. Now, slowly add the oil, just like in making a mayonnaise, add in a thin stream until the sauce thickens.
Plate the crab cakes, garnish sparingly with the sauce and serve at once. A good wine choice would be a Pinot Grigio.
SHRIMP AND GRITS
This recipe seems to be getting more common these days, but is almost certainly a Low Country recipe in its origins. This recipe is a bit more hardy than most, the sausage fortifies it quite a lot, so it can easily be served as a main course for dinner. The soft boiled egg adds a lot of richness that may surprise you.
1 cup freshly ground yellow grits
2-3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 soft boiled egg per serving
1 pound large shrimp
1/2 cup locally made Italian sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
2-3 cloves chopped garlic
Red pepper flakes
Olive oil as needed
Green onions for garnish
Prepare the grits according to package directions, but add the butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano when just done, mix well. Remove the casings from the sausage and cook in a large sauté pan (add a little olive oil if necessary). When the sausage is just done add the onions and cook until translucent, then add the garlic and cook just 2 minutes more. Remove this mixture, but do not remove the leftover oil. Turn the heat to high and cook the shrimp very quickly, not more than 2 minutes on a side, remove and add to the sausage, onion mixture. Plate the grits in big bowls, carefully place the soft boiled egg on each and then top with the shrimp and sausage.
Garnish with the green onions. Serve at once. Serve with a cold and delicious Gruner Veltliner.