Remember the kid table at Thanksgiving? My rowdy brothers and I snugged up tight to a card table in the dining room at Grandma’s. After grace Mamma piled our plates high — turkey and dirty rice dressing with gravy, macaroni and cheese, various tasty vegetables, potato salad, pickles, olives (green and black), celery and carrot sticks and cranberries (jelly and sauce). The trick was to find a spot among the splendor for your hot buttered roll so the bottom got full of gravy. Kiddy heaven.
Life was good at the kid table. What did we care that the grown-ups kept the yucky old oyster pie at their table? It took me a few years to catch on to what they were up to, the sneaks. I was probably 12 or so before I got to taste that masterfully simple creation. The combination of tender oysters in deeply flavored roux gravy, scallions, red pepper and tender pastry helped me decide some things were worth growing up for.
We had a magical connection through food, my grandmother, Miss Alice, and I. Her house was across the street from my grade school and I went there for lunch every day. She worried that I was too thin, too delicate, so she fed me up.
I was with her most days during the summer and snapped beans, shelled peas, shucked corn, cut okra, peeled figs. During the fall I picked up pecans and shelled them till the cows came home. At Christmastime I stuffed dates with those pecans and rolled them in powdered sugar for her and stood over her shoulder when she “whiskeyed” her cakes. She taught me how to make gravy, how to make her garlicky marinated salad, her legendary potato salad, lemon meringue pie, scotch cake. And on and on.
When I was 15 we moved to a new city, still in Louisiana, but away from Grandma’s house. I rode the train down on weekends to stay with her and visit my friends. When I was 17 we moved way up to Georgia. I grieved. No more weekend visits.
She and my grandpa took the train up to see us for Thanksgiving that first year. Miss Alice taught me how to make her oyster pie. I’ve baked them many Thanksgivings and Christmases since she first showed me the exact color to get the roux, the precise curl to the oyster’s ruffled edges, the tuck of the crust. It was the last thing she taught me to cook.
Oyster pie with shrimp and scallops
The recipe has helped me anchor Thanksgiving to much of what I have to be grateful for: a family and cultural heritage with heart, generous and loving, and a culinary tradition rich and distinctly unique. I always think of Louisiana folk as I stir a roux or make potato salad.
I mostly keep to my grandmother’s traditional pie but some years I make alterations. I like to team oysters with shrimp and scallops. The oyster flavor is still dominant, but its full-blown strength is gentled a bit. The roux is light instead of dark and I’ve studded the top crust with scallions and seasonings.
- 1 double-crust pie pastry
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- ½ cup half and half
- 1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ½ pound scallops
- ½ pint fresh raw oysters
- 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly chopped, 1 tablespoon reserved
- Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
- 1 egg white
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place one pastry crust into a pie pan and refrigerate while making the filling. Pour oysters into a sieve. Check carefully for bits of shell and remove. Rinse and drain.
- Lightly season shrimp, oysters and scallops with Creole seasoning.
- Heat a skillet over medium heat. Melt butter, then add flour. Stir constantly until smooth. Pour in half and half and keep stirring. Add shrimp, scallops and oysters and stir to blend. Sprinkle with Creole seasoning and bring to a low simmer. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in all but 1 tablespoon of chopped scallions.
- Turn mixture into prepared pie shell. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- Roll top crust into an 11-inch circle. Scatter reserved scallions widely over the crust then sprinkle lightly with Creole seasoning. Use a rolling pin to set scallions and seasoning into the crust and roll it out an additional ½ inch. Brush the edge of the bottom crust lightly with water. Lift the top crust onto filling. Tuck the top crust under the bottom crust and seal edges. Cut vent slits in the top and brush with egg white.
- Set on a cookie sheet and bake for 55 minutes or until well browned. Remove from oven and cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting, or serve at room temperature.
Note: The filling is juicy so serve with a spoon instead of trying to cut into wedges.