When I told my friend Becca that I had made oyster stew, she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and asked, “well, did you like it?” As I nodded yes, she added laughing, “it’s a lot better than you would think, isn’t it?” Becca is from Biloxi, Mississippi and is well acquainted with this Southern stew. It’s normally eaten around the holidays, but I thought it might make a good Lenten dish.
Those of you acquainted with oyster stew know how good it is. Those of you who aren’t, and who like me the first time I heard of it, sort of cringe at the very idea, you’ll just have to take my word. It’s beyond good. It’s lick the plate of every last drop good. Assuming of course that you like seafood. Even if you are not a big fan of raw oysters, not everyone is, but you like shellfish like clams or scallops, you’ll be fine with this stew. It reminds me a lot of a really good cream of mushroom soup, but with oysters instead of mushrooms.
About the oysters. You can use freshly shucked if you have access to them, though you’ll need quite a few for this stew. We used jarred oysters that we found in the refrigerated seafood section of our local grocery store (Raley’s). I’ve since seen them in practically every grocery store I’ve been to in my area, so I assume that the jarred oysters are not that hard to find, and they’ll likely be much more cost effective than freshly shucked.
Oyster Stew Recipe
You may or may not need to add salt to this stew, depending on how briny your oysters are. If you use freshly shucked oysters, be sure to save the juice, or liquor, that comes out of the shells. You need it for the stew. If you want to vary things, add a splash of brandy, Madeira or white wine, and play around with the herbs. Mint, dill, or fennel fronds are all good alternatives.
- 5 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 pint oysters with their liquor, jarred or freshly shucked, about 2 dozen*
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 celery stalks, minced
- 1 medium yellow or white onion, minced
- 1 3/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup cream (can use all milk if you want)
- Splash of Tabasco, Crystal, or other hot sauce
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup parsley, minced
* You may be able to find refrigerated jarred oysters (without shells) near the seafood counter at your local grocery store.
1 Strain the oyster juice through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl to remove any grit. Reserve the juices. Rinse the oysters well, under cold water. Put them in a bowl.
2 Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the flour and stir to make a roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture for a few minutes, stirring often. When the roux turns the color of coffee-with-cream, stir in the celery and onions. Increase the heat to medium and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
3 Add the oyster juice and any juices the oysters in the bowl have released. The flour in the roux will absorb the liquid and turn into a paste. Slowly add the milk and cream, stirring to incorporate as you pour them in. Add a healthy splash or two of hot sauce, to taste. Heat the soup to steamy, but below a simmer, over low heat, cook for 15 minutes. (Do not let the soup boil!) If you are working with large oysters, you may want to chop them into bite-sized pieces. Add the oysters and cook for another 2 minutes, or until the edges of the oysters just begin to curl.
If you want the stew to be more like a smooth soup, purée until smooth.
4 Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
Yield: Serves 4-6.