For Thanksgiving, New Orleanians know how to celebrate this day of gluttony… er “thanks”… very well and (as expected) take any excuse to celebrate food appropriately. Natives of New Orleans, however, don’t realize they have different meal traditions than the rest of the U.S. until much later in life. When grandma has had fresh oysters easily available, or mirliton (pronounced amongst family like “mel-lee-tawn) growing in the backyard your whole life, how would you know it’s different from the “middle America” we all keep hearing about these days? Below is a list of five traditional New Orleans dishes that many New Orleanians know as staples for their holiday meals that many out-of-towners may not expect.
1. Oyster Patty
Also known as an “erster” patty, this pastry filled with creamy oyster goodness is a common starter that is constantly moving out of the oven and straight to the party platter that family will continue to nosh on until the official dinner time has started. Sometimes it is bite-sized, and sometimes it can be served almost like a starter soup in a small bread bowl. An easy recipe can be found here.
2. Mirliton Casserole
Mirliton is a very mild flavored squash that can be easily and cheaply grown in New Orleans backyards. Because it is so versatile, it is the perfect base for a delicious casserole filled with seafood and traditional creole spices. Every family has a different recipe filled with oysters, shrimp, crawfish, crab or all of the above. An easy and seafood-filled recipe can be found here.
3. Dirty Rice
Dirty rice acquired its name because of its dark color that comes from a protein that some find, well, rather “dirty”. Chicken liver and gizzards are a rich, flavorful part of the bird many cooks these days throw away as trash. Dirty rice is occasionally used as a stuffing, but more often is a popular side dish found on New Orleans tables. A classic version of this dish can be cooked following this recipe.
4. Spinach Madeleine
True pity is felt by New Orleanians when they learn for the first time that this “healthy” (haha) vegetable dish is not an American norm. Its humble beginnings from a southern Louisiana housewife and a Kraft product certainly seem like it should be a universal dish. We all believe it probably will be soon. This creamy, flavorful, spicy spinach dish can be made following this recipe.
5. Cajun Fried Turkey
Ok, so maybe it isn’t a New Orleans dish, but the Cajun Fried Turkey has rapidly grown in popularity thanks to a lot of (most likely drunken and dangerous) family parties where large fryers are used and an excess of poultry is available. Once the word got out in NOLA that about two hours away Southern Louisianans mastered how to fry a turkey, everyone with a large fryer was testing it out. Now every other family in the neighborhood is risking their lives (frying a turkey really is very dangerous, but delicious) with this new favorite. If you’re willing and able, the recipe can be found here.
BONUS DISH. Turkey Gumbo (the next day)
New Orleanians obviously know how to make a mean gumbo out of the leftover stock, so you have to remember to make sure to save those turkey bits and pieces after it has been carved. A good turkey gumbo is the perfect leftover lunch or dinner than can be deliciously stretched out for days. Don’t forget to take advantage of that carcass!