New twists for traditional Thanksgiving sides

Published 2:27 am Saturday, November 19, 2016

It is time again to think about Thanksgiving. Yes, I am cooking for my daughter and her future husband so the stress is on! I have had the same dishes for 30 years or more but decided to change them up a little with the help of a new cookbook by Julia Reed and some magazine recipes.

1119-scalloped-oystersMy husband gave me Julia’s new cookbook called Julia Reed’s South. Probably a lot of you know Julia Reed from her other books on entertaining and her articles in Garden and Gun. She is from the Delta and writes about high-spirited entertaining and high-style fun all year long. This book has her recipes for parties during the holidays, spring luncheons, and even a hunt breakfast. The book has gorgeous photographs and shows how to do invitations, setting the table, and arranging tables.

I was especially interested in her recipes for the holidays since I have started making my list. I have done scalloped oysters for 40 years but Julia had a recipe a little different from mine (which is from my husband’s grandmother’s cook) and I gave it a try and I believe it is better than the one I have always done. Everyone, according to Julia, has their own version of scalloped oysters in the Delta. Her mother uses Ritz crackers instead of saltines, and adds celery, scallions, herbs, and lemon juice. I will not use saltines anymore.

Another dish is her sautéed spinach recipe which her friend Jason Epstein taught her to do. This recipe was very good also and I will add it to my list of sides. It is a simple, classy dish with no cream and a touch of lemon. This can be made ahead and reheated over low heat.


So here are the first of two sides for your Thanksgiving table.

Scalloped Oysters

Serves 8

6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) butter plus more for the baking dish

2 pints shucked fresh oysters

2 sleeves Ritz crackers, unopened

½ cup chopped Italian parsley leaves

1/3 cup thinly sliced celery (use the tenderest pale green heart if you can)

½ cup thinly sliced scallions, including some of the tender green parts

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

¾ cup heavy cream

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°. Grease a 9×13-inch dish with butter.

Drain the oysters in a strainer over a medium bowl, reserving 2 tablespoons of the oyster liquor. Lay out the oysters in a single layer on paper towels.

Roll up the unopened sleeves of the crackers in a dish towel and smash with a rolling pin until you have small pieces, about 2 ½ cups. You can use a food processor also.

Melt 8 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and toss the cracker crumbs in the butter until evenly coated. Stir in the parsley, remove the mixture to a medium bowl, and set aside.

Wipe out the sauté pan and melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Sauté the celery and scallions, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the thyme, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce and simmer for 30 seconds. Add the cream and reserved oyster liquor and bring to a boil. Stir in the cayenne. Remove from the heat.

On the bottom of the buttered baking dish, sprinkle ½ cup of the cracker crumbs. Place a layer of oysters on top of the crumbs and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle half the cream mixture on top. Repeat with 1 cup of the remaining crumbs, the remaining oysters, and the remaining cream. Top with the remaining 1 cup cracker crumbs.

Bake until bubbling and the oysters are just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.


Jason’s Spinach

8 servings

1 stick butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ cup finely chopped shallots

4 pounds baby spinach washed and dried

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly ground white pepper

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large deep sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach, tossing continuously from the bottom of the pan. When all the spinach is added cover the pan for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the lid and toss again, making sure all the spinach is coated in the butter and oil and the spinach is limp and shiny. Stir in the salt, generous lashings of black pepper and white pepper, and the lemon juice.

Remove the sautéed spinach from the heat. Taste for seasonings. You may need more salt or pepper, but this dish should not be too lemony.

Drain the spinach in a colander, discarding any liquid, and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse a few times-you don’t want the puree to be remotely runny or too smooth. The finished dish should be velvety but still maintain a bit of the texture of both the spinach and the shallots. Serve it in a covered silver vegetable dish or a bowl.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.