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 Devillier Chris 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.

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?

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The Menu

Pickled Shrimp with Satsuma

Pickled Shrimp with Satsuma Orange

Grilled Oysters with Pecorino and Shaved Bottarga

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 »

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 »

Duck and Andouille Gumbo

Duck and Andouille Gumbo

Braised Venison Shoulder with Mushroom Pierogi

A hearty warm venison stew with homestyle mushroom pierogis are all you need to stay warm in the fall. Get the recipe for Braised Venison Shoulder with Mushroom Pierogi »

Redfish on the Half Shell with Creamy Grits

Chef Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery learned this popular Louisiana fish camp technique—cooking “on the half shell”—after moving to New Orleans from California. Grilling fish skin-side-down with its scales still attached protects the tender meat from ripping and insulates it slightly from the heat, resulting in perfectly tender flesh. Get the recipe for Redfish on the Half Shell with Creamy Grits »

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 »

Sea Salt Ice Cream With Cornbread Financiers

These are an elegant, restaurant-style nod to the hunks of cornbread typically found on Thanksgiving tables. Get the recipe for Sea Salt Ice Cream With Cornbread Financiers »