The Hunter's Way to Cook a Louisiana Thanksgiving

Chef Justin Devillier relies on the wilds of Louisiana for a locally-inspired Thanksgiving spread

Chef Justin Devillier
Chef Justin DevillierChris Granger

Hopping into a little boat with friends and heading out in the pitch black of an early morning to hunt in the duck blind as the sun rises—to me, that's the sign that Thanksgiving is coming.

Waterfowl hunting season in Louisiana opens the second week in November, and ever since I moved here 13 years ago, the holiday, hunting, and my duck and andouille gumbo—which takes pride of place on my Thanksgiving table—have been inextricably linked. I love hunting because it's methodical: To hit your target, you have to go through steps, making sure your stance and sight picture are both in line before you pull the trigger. And as a chef I believe each bite tastes better if you've had a hand in what you eat, from start to finish.

Ruby, who was three at the time, took one look at the birds and instructed me to cut off their heads.

My little girls, Ruby and Beatrice, think so too. Last year I brought home ducks that were still feathered, still had heads and feet on. Ruby, who was three at the time, pulled up her stool so she could see over the butcher block, took one look at the birds and, without batting an eye, instructed me to cut off their heads. So I did. And then she helped me with everything—removing the feet, deboning the bodies, roasting the bones, and making a rich dark broth with them, step-by-step, methodically. It took all day. That evening, Ruby drank six cups. That's like half her weight in duck broth. She's unflappable. I have no doubt she'll be a great shot when she gets older.

At my Thanksgiving table, where every dish is going to be enjoyed by friends and family—arguably my most important customers—I do my best to gather all of the ingredients personally. That means I go fishing on Lake Borgne, near my house, for redfish, which I grill “on the half shell,” a technique pulled from Louisiana fish camps that insulates the meat and keeps it super moist. And while I don't shoot my own venison, I still use fresh meat thanks to a restaurant regular, the priest at the church across the street. He hunts in his spare time and will drop off a shoulder, which I cook low and slow in wine until it's so tender you can eat it with a spoon. I guess it's our showstopping equivalent to the Norman Rockwell turkey.

But it's the duck gumbo that I associate most with the holiday. It starts with the camaraderie of camping out with a bunch of my friends the night before we hunt and ends with my kids digging into bowls filled with a rich roasted duck broth, thickened with roux and packed with andouille sausage and tender duck meat. And what can I be more thankful for than that?

The Menu

Pickled Shrimp with Satsuma

Pickled Shrimp with Satsuma (close up)
Bittersweet satsumas, a citrus fruit native to Louisiana, brighten these pickled shrimp, which chef Justin Devillier of New Orleans' La Petite Grocery spikes with Korean chile flakes. Substitute tangerines or any orange-related citrus and crushed red chile flakes, if necessary. Get the recipe for Pickled Shrimp with Satsuma »Christina Holmes

Grilled Oysters with Pecorino and Shaved Bottarga

Pickled Shrimp with Satsuma
Large Gulf oysters are the perfect vessel for this smoky, briny, richly-flavored appetizer. Get the recipe for Grilled Oysters with Pecorino and Shaved Bottarga »Christina Holmes

Oyster Pie with Buttermilk Biscuits

Oyster Pie with Buttermilk Biscuits
This classic oyster stew from Justin Devillier, the chef of La Petite Grocery in New Orleans, is packed full of Swiss chard and flavored with smoky ham and absinthe, which perfumes each steaming bite with an enticing note of licorice. The buttermilk biscuits on top are just as delicious cooked separately and slathered with butter and honey. Get the recipe for Oyster Pie with Buttermilk Biscuits »Christina Holmes; Spoon from Old World Kitchen

Duck and Andouille Gumbo

Duck and Andouille Gumbo
This stew uses rendered duck fat in the roux instead of butter and quartered ducks in lieu of the classic chicken. Get the recipe for Duck and Andouille Gumbo »Christina Holmes

Braised Venison Shoulder with Mushroom Pierogi

Braised Venison Shoulder with Mushroom Pierogi
Venison is prominent on the holiday menus of many hunters because deer season coincides with late fall. Chef Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery in New Orleans braises venison shoulder in wine and serves it with mushroom pierogi, an homage to his mother, who has Polish roots. Get the recipe for Braised Venison Shoulder with Mushroom Pierogi »Christina Holmes

Redfish on the Half Shell with Creamy Grits

Redfish on the Half Shell with Creamy Grits
Grilling fish skin-side-down with scales still attached protects the delicate meat and insulates it from the heat, resulting in perfectly tender flesh. Get the recipe for Redfish on the Half Shell with Creamy Grits »Christina Holmes

Roasted Turnips and Greens with Bacon Vinaigrette

Roasted Turnips and Greens with Bacon Vinaigrette
Pleasantly bitter turnips are roasted until sweet and then slicked with bacon fat and tossed with sherry vinegar and their own wilted green leaves in this warming side dish. Get the recipe for Roasted Turnips and Greens with Bacon Vinaigrette »Christina Holmes

Cornbread Financiers with Sea Salt Ice Cream

Sea Salt Ice Cream with Cornbread Financiers
These are an elegant, restaurant-style nod to the hunks of cornbread typically found on Thanksgiving tables, perfect for breaking apart and dunking in a simple yet standout, mildly savory ice cream. Get the recipe for Cornbread Financiers with Sea Salt Ice Cream »Christina Holmes