These simple, cracker-topped oysters outshine the turkey every year.

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Oyster Casserole with Cracker Crumbs
Credit: Photo by Noah Fecks / Food Styling by Drew Aichele / Prop Styling by Ethan Lunkenheimer

This holiday season, Food & Wine is going over the top with our series "Give Thanks, But Make It Extra"—a celebration of all things opulent, glittering, rich, delicious, and joyful.

Everyone grows up eating a dish they're shocked to learn other people don't eat at Thanksgiving. A Southerner, for example, might be confused by the lack of macaroni and cheese on a Thanksgiving table, just like a Midwesterner might be perplexed by any fewer than five types of casserole. As a child I assumed that my favorite Thanksgiving dish, a simple casserole made of pre-shucked oysters, smashed Ritz crackers, and a little bit of hot sauce, was universal—that it was mashed potatoes-level canonical. But not so.

Soft, briny, crumbly, and luscious, these baked oysters have always added a special occasional feel to my family's Thanksgiving table, even though the ingredients are humble (supermarket oysters, Ritz crackers, hot sauce, cream) and the prep could not be simpler. My mother makes the dish every year, but I recently learned it's not an original family tradition.  

My mother, who is from a town near Fall River, Massachusetts, called Somerset, would eat Thanksgiving at a neighbor's house growing up, and oyster casserole was always served. "As you know, we did not live close to relatives, so every Thanksgiving, we would go to the house of the Peters family," she said. "Mrs. Peters was originally from Somerset, probably several generations back, but I don't know whether the oyster casserole was an old New England recipe. I never confronted it in any other time or place, nor have I heard of other people having it."

My mom said she went several decades without having it until she had a family and began doing her own Thanksgivings. "I easily found the recipe in the Fannie Farmer cookbook, which also makes me think it's a traditional American recipe," she said. "It was always a big favorite of mine, so I restarted the tradition, for us."

I can't imagine Thanksgiving without oyster casserole, and you shouldn't have to, either. While you're welcome to jazz them up with freshly shucked oysters, those clear supermarket containers of pre-shucked oysters are magical when dressed with buttery crackers and cream.

Oyster Casserole with Cracker Crumbs