New Orleanians love social gatherings, family and eating, and as a result, Thanksgiving is a popular holiday in the local calendar. But the traditional Turkey Day emphasis on heavy, starchy sides doesn’t fly so well in South Louisiana. This region has developed a distinctive Thanksgiving menu all its own. Here are some New Orleans & Me favorites from the regional Thanksgiving table.

The most iconic entree in the Louisiana Thanksgiving lineup, a turducken speaks to two great qualities of this state: our extensive reserves of fowl, and our penchant for taking a concept (in this case, turkey) and going completely, crank-it-up-to-11-over-the-top-with-it.

I know a few of you out there are still scratching your heads over the word, ‘turducken.’ We’ll let the ladies of Festigals explain the concept:

A Turducken is a deboned turkey stuffed with a deboned duck which has then been stuffed with a deboned chicken in addition to stuffing and herbs. This dish, which is said to have originated in a specialty meat store in South-Central Louisiana, was popularized by the iconic New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme. Rumor has it that it then became a national sensation when NFL personality John Madden brought a turducken onto a football broadcast during Thanksgiving to share with his fellow broadcasters.

Prudhomme popularized the turducken, and his restaurant K-Paul’s still has one of the most reliable recipes for this bird in a bird in a bird. Loosen your belt and read the recipe here.

Turducken, courtesy of Wiki Commons

Collard Greens, courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Turkey Day! Courtesy of Stephen Binns

Pecan pie, courtesy of Wiki Commons

Collard Greens – Greens in Pot Likker
Greens are enjoying a stint in the gastronomic trendiness limelight these days, but these cheap, leafy vegetables have always strongly featured on the Louisiana menu, as much out of necessity as taste. That isn’t to say greens can’t be delicious; oh no. They can be absolutely divine. Here’s a recipe for greens courtesy of our partners at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum. The recipe comes from food historian Ann Chandonnet.

1/2 pound salt pork (fat back or bacon)
1 onion, chopped
3 pounds greens (collard, mustard or turnip, or a mixture)
salt and pepper to taste
Simmer the pork in water to cover for an hour or until tender.

Wash greens throughly, removing stems. Add to pork with additional water if necessary, and simmer until tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Season with red pepper, hot pepper sauce and/or sugar. Serve with sliced pork and some of the cooking likker, plus cornbread for dipping.

Turducken speaks to two great qualities of this state: our extensive reserves of fowl, and our penchant for taking a concept (in this case, turkey) and going completely, crank-it-up-to-11-over-the-top-with-it. On the sheer overindulgence of a bird in a bird in a bird.

Sweet Potato Puree With Pecan Praline Topping
I love mashed potatoes, and I admit they tend to overshadow whatever sweet potato/yam dish anyone brings to the table. Louisiana: let’s end this injustice! Because while mashed potatoes are good, they’re basically a big fluffy butter delivery system. there’s not a lot of pizzazz or technique to them. To that end, I give you: a sweet potato puree recipe (see our title image, by Stephen Bionns) that nicely balances sweet and savory, courtesy of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum and author Gisele Perez.

6 pounds sweet potatoes (about 8-9 large)
1 cup dark brown sugar
6 ounces butter
Approximately 1 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1. Rinse the sweet potatoes and prick them with a fork in several places. Then roast them on a foil lined baking sheet at 375 degrees until tender, about 50 minutes.
2. Allow the sweet potatoes to cool slightly, then puree them in a food processor with butter and brown sugar. You may want to do this in several stages. Stir in the nutmeg.
3. Pour the sweet potato mixture into a baking dish (a 2 quart capacity oval ceramic baker works well) and smooth the top. This step can be done a day ahead, covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator.
4. Pour the Pecan Praline Topping (recipe below) over the potatoes and bake until the top is brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes). If you would like a browner, crispier top, you may run the potato casserole under broiler for a minute or so, but keep a close eye in them, as pecans burn quickly.

Pecan Praline Topping
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup pecans

Combine the sugars and cream in a saucepan, and stir over heat just until the sugars are dissolved. Add the pecans.

Cornbread and Oyster Dressing
Forego the standard Stove Top stuffing for this dressing, courtesy of SoFab director Elizabeth Williams. Shellfish and cornbread – what could be more New Orleans? The cornbread still has a starchy reliability that functions well as a side dish, bolstered by corn’s inherently strong flavor profile and the briny, salty whammy of oysters and bacon. We’ll be giving you a recipe for the Turkey Neck Gumbo, at the end of this entry, a little later – it’s an excellent post Turkey Day meal.

4 small pans of yellow cornbread
2 cups white breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 strips bacon
2 onions, chopped
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 quart oysters with their liquor
1 pound peeled small shrimp or roughly chopped if they are large
1 beer

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. The cornbread should be stale. Hurry this process by crumbling the cornbread and spreading it on a cookie sheet and leaving it for a few hours or overnight. Do not toast it, because it will not absorb the liquid properly. Just let it get stale. Do not use sweet cornbread. Put the stale crumbs in a large bowl. Add the white bread crumbs. Do not use conventional sliced white crumbs, but a white bread with a good crumb and texture.

Heat the oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, add the bacon. Cook to render the bacon fat until the bacon strips are crisp. Remove the strips and reserve them. In the pan cook the onions,scallions, bell peppers and celery until they are soft. Add the cooked vegetables to the bread in the bowl. Add the parlsey, thyme, cayenne, salt and pepper. Add the spices to your taste. Crumble the bacon into the mixture and then mix the bread and vegetables well. Then add the oysters and their liquor and the shrimp. Mix thoroughly. Add the beer to wet the mixture until it is damp enough to hold together. Place the prepared mixture into an oiled oven-proof dish and place into the oven for about 45 minutes. The top should be slightly browned. Serve with Turkey Bone Gumbo instead of rice or eat it by itself.

Pecan Pie
At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, apple pie is a bit overrated. It’s a little too tart for my tastes, and the crust often feels a little uninspired (admittedly, a nice apple crumble is a thing of beauty). In a similar vein, most pumpkin pies feel like a Starbucks seasonal special thickened into a viscous circle of stickiness.

Pecan pie can admittedly be found across the South, and store bought versions are probably available in Alaska, but New Orleans is still the queen of this iconic desert. A solid winner in the pecan pie stakes is the one served at Brigsten’s in the Riverbend. You can find their excellent recipe here – it’s the third one on the page.

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