Oyster Stew

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

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

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.

Ingredients

  • 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
  • Salt
  • 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.

Method

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.

Links:

Oyster Stew with Chorizo and Spinach - from TasteFood

Oyster and Fava Bean Stew - from No Recipes

Oyster Stew - from Never Enough Thyme

oyster-stew-b.jpg
Smooth, puréed version of oyster stew.

35 Comments

  1. PB from MN

    This could be a regional difference, but the Oyster Stew that I make and serve, yes, at Christmas is unthickened and much simpler. It contains oysters, cream/milk, butter and salt and pepper. Personally, I do not care for it, but this is what my family wants and it is traditional.

    • LOWELL EIDE

      Each of these 2 recipes you speak of are one of thousands of different recipes, all of which people enjoy. The different recipes are enjoyed world wide, with the common denominator being oysters.

  2. Cary

    That sounds really good and simple (in a pure way). I am one who can’t stand raw oysters, but I really loved an Oyster Rockefeller Soup my sister made one CHristmas…crisp bacon pieces, fresh spinach at the last minute, Pernod, a creamy broth…it was delicious.

  3. Reese

    Making a little chop-up of all of the herbs you mentioned (parsley, dill, fennel frond, mint) sounds like a heavenly way to garnish this stew, maybe with a little edible flower too. Going to try it! :-)

  4. Dizzysmamma

    This does sound delish. Every now and then (because I’m the only seafoodie in the family) I will add oysters to my potato soup. Also, delish.

  5. Rebecca Harrach

    This recipe looks absolutely delicious. Perfect for a cold day. I would have to throw a bunch of oyster crackers on top! Thanks for a nice post.

  6. Karen G.

    Most of my family lives in coastal Virginia, and oyster stew is definitely a Christmas morning tradition. Dad knows someone who knows someone, so we are lucky enough to get wonderful shucked local oysters the day before. With quality like that, all you need is butter, a little flour, whole milk, parsley, salt and plenty of pepper.

  7. Blake L

    As PB from MN wrote there is a simpler unthickened version but I don’t think it is really regional as I am from south Georgia and my family uses the same basic recipe as PB.
    We serve it with ‘Premium’ saltines(crumble them up in the stew to thicken it or just eat along with it) or ‘Oysterettes’(little heagonal soda crackers). We also use varying combinations of ketchup, hot sauce, and finely diced onions so each person can customize it to their own personal taste. Some like it plain. Some like it with ketchup. I like it with crackers, ketchup, hot sauce, extra black pepper, and onions or any combination.
    While it is not as good as with fresh oysters, a passable version can be made with canned oysters in a pinch, but beware because not all canned oysters are created equal. I’ve found the Korean oysters to be greatly superior in flavor to the product of China ones. Your taste and choices may be different so try seversal types to find the ones you prefer.
    I don’t rinse the oysters but feel them over by hand to find any shell bits that need removing. And I use a paper towel as a filter for the liqour from the oysters(or from the can of oysters instead of a fine sieve. It’ll catch every bit of sand or grit no matter how fine.

  8. Amelia

    Yes, the one I have always had here in the southern US is much simpler with no flour or veggies, just milk, oysters, butter, salt and pepper. You can add tobassco, crackers, or ketchup but I eat it plain.

    May have to give this a try. I picked up some oysters to make soup earlier this week. Might have to swing by the store and get the rest.

  9. Steve S.

    This recipe sounds good, still I have found a couple mods of my own. One is to add green bell peppers in with the veg saute, and to later add chopped artichokes for a nice meaty texture and briney flavor. Also if you like a thicker soup simply bring all liquid to a boil after making a roux as this is how you activate the thickening qualities.

  10. mantha

    Oh, my . . . anyone who likes a rich New England white chowder should love this Southern cousin. The hot sauce or red pepper is so good in the middle of all that creaminess — it doesn’t bite so much as glow all the way down. If it’s good as Lenten seafood, it’d be even better for dinner before a romantic evening. If you were gong to use a fennel frond garnish, I wonder how mincing a little fresh fennel stalk into the celery would be?

  11. Katana

    I made something like this a few years ago, only with some mussels that my friends and I found in the local river. It was simpler, but still pretty good! After reading this, I want to get oysters and make me some stew! =)

  12. Kathi Riley Smith

    As I was planning a menu for a private dinner party a few years ago, I came across a recipe for a soup called Bongo Bongo Soup. This is an old Trader Vic’s recipe which incorporates fresh oysters, spinach, A-1 steak sauce and cream, along with a few other ingredients. To my surprise, it was absolutely delicious right down to the broiled whipped cream garnish. If you like oysters and spinach, give it a whirl-I doubt you will be disappointed.

  13. Mimsey

    I make an unthickened oyster bisque with similar ingredients, but have never thought of pureeing it. That sounds great. I use the fresh jarred oysters, but trim off the rubbery “foot” muscle, before cutting the oyster into two or three chunks.

  14. Paul

    I’ll chime in with PB and Blake L. on the unthickened version. I always regarded a roux as a base for New England-style clam chowder but not oyster stew.

    From earliest memory, our regional variety (Philadelphia) was butter-sauteed onion and celery with salt, thyme, nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne. Oysters, then milk, then heavy cream were added and brought to a short simmer. Garnished with fresh parsley, any thickening was done with a handful or two of crushed OTC oyster crackers (Original Trenton Crackers – the dense, spherical ones.) At least that’s how my grandmother made it and how I enjoy it to this day.

  15. Ashley

    I think the color looks lovely and home-y. I have never made oysters at home, even though I love them. I can’t wait to try this. Thanks for another delicious looking recipe!

  16. VE

    I’ve never tried it but the hot sauce and cream combo sounds awesome. I bet it goes down great with a big hunk of cornbread too.

  17. Michelle

    I love oyster stew, but I add a dash of Worcestershire sauce to it to. Makes it a greenish color, but yum its so good!

  18. Hannah

    I have to agree with several other posters here – I grew up in Alabama eating a very similar version of this soup but much thinner. I don’t have the recipe but I seem to remember it being just whole milk, oysters, butter, and spices. Yumm.. I’m going to have to ask my mom for the recipe!

  19. jo

    Add crushed up oyster crackers to this and bake it and you pretty much have my Gran’s Oyster ‘dish’ that we always had at Thanksgiving. Don’t let the ‘dish’ part fool you, she was a Yankee from VT not from Michigan.
    Over the years we’ve pared it down to bake it in ramekins as an app. So very good.

  20. Cindy

    Now I am Hungry. I moved from south Louisiana about 6 months ago and have been craving oysters ever since. My Grandma has always made Oyster Stew for Christmas Eve dinner. Unfortunately she was originally taught to cook the milk, butter and oysters most of the afternoon and evening–resulting in rubbery, flavorless oysters. Not until I moved to Louisiana did I realize what wonderfulness can come from the lowly oyster.

  21. GretchenJoanna

    We have eaten oyster stew every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, a tradition that came through my husband’s German relations. I always made my own pot loosely following the directions in Joy of Cooking. The only thing I don’t like is the way the oysters get tough too quickly, making leftovers unappetizing. I never thought of puréeing the soup, but that seems like a good solution to the problem. Or I could do as Kathi says, cut off the rubbery muscle, which might be the only offending part. Thanks to all!

  22. Karen B

    this looks lovely, but as others have stated, it is NOT oyster stew:-)Oyster stew is milk,butter, oysters, their liquor, and pepper. Perhaps some salt if needed. Nothing better than real oyster stew with freshly shucked oysters. I was born and raised in coastal GA, and we used to go out in a little flat bottom boat, pick oysters then come back and have an oyster roast, and with the leftover oysters make oyster stew. Ummm sooo good!

  23. Lucy

    Interesting how comments are dividing up by region. I also remember a version of this stew that my grandmother made which I think was as the others from Georgia have said, just simple milk, butter, oysters. And I know that she used canned oysters. Probably some economic factors there as well. And I’m pretty sure I never ate it, although I might try it now that I’m older and a little more culinarily (is that a word) adventurous.

  24. angela

    Definitely going to try this, I love oysters and can get them in my local market(I’ve even become quite a dab hand at shucking them myself). I love them raw and cooked with breadcrumbs, parsley (a splash of pastis)garlic and butter. This will add yet another way to eat them!

  25. Jean Marie

    I love a plate of nice fresh slurpy oysters! Or fat fried ones. My southern grandmother would agree with others that oyster stew does not involve flour; just cream/milk, butter, pepper and oyster liquid. This version sounds pretty tasty tho.

  26. Charla

    Oyster stew is a New Years Eve tradition in my family, served with warm sourdough bread or rolls.

    I make it much the same way, but add diced White Rose potatoes to celery and onion sauteed in butter – no flour roux here. Add milk, cream, oysters,fresh ground pepper and a shot of hot sauce … darn now I’m hungry!

  27. Luana

    Well about the oyster stew I don’t know, but I know about oyster soup – simpy delicious!
    You can try; here the recipe:

    1 big chopped onion
    2 chopped tomatoes
    Olive oil just to brown onions
    1 bay leave
    Freshly ground black pepper
    100grs shushi rice
    Lemon juice green fresh chilies
    Salt
    3 tins smoked oysters
    ½ cup parsley and fresh coriander, minced

    Make a stew with olive oil, tomatoes, bay leave and onions;
    Add rice and water to cook;
    When the rice is cooked, add the oysters and more hot water to make your soup;
    Add salt and pepper and 1 or 2 finely chopped green chilies;
    Switch off the fire. Add lemon juice, the minced parsley and fresh coriander.

  28. NewOrleansJohn

    No two ways about it, this is one of my favorite dishes. One option I would recommend is to serve it with a bottle of Tabasco on the table. I think that the addition of a little Tabasco crowns an already princely dish.

  29. barbara

    This brings to mind MFK Fisher’s Consider The Oyster. Her writing made me want to try oyster stew despite disliking oysters. She made it sound wonderful.

  30. the garlic rose

    I grew up in coastal north carolina and oyster stew was a wintertime staple at our house. I LOVE to make it when there are fresh oysters available. This recipe is a little different than mine, but looks so good I think I’ll try it next time.

  31. Gordo

    This was OK but not exceptional to my taste. The very first oyster stew recipe I invented (too lazy to look one up) is still the best I’ve tried: melt a half stick butter on medium to the point of just barely bubbling, dump in the entire jar of shucked oysters juice and all, stir it around until it turns opaque, then slowly stir in about two cups of half and half (doesn’t have to be precise, however liquidy you like it) until it is steamy, but not boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    It tastes exquisite just like that, but if you’ve tried it and want it a little thicker you can do what people have done for thousands of years: crumble a Ritz cracker into it. ;-)

  32. Phillip

    Ingredients:
    1 8oz can of whole oysters
    1 can of mushroom soup
    1 can of milk
    butter
    black pepper

    This is as simple as it gets and oh so good.
    Melt 1/4 to 1/3 stick of butter (prefferably unsalted) in a sauce pan just til barely bubbling. Add 1 eight ounce can of whole oysters with juice. I like to roughly break them up a bit between thumb and forefinger (have found 2 tiny pearls this way and sister has chipped a tooth on one because she doesnt check this way.) Add fresh ground pepper to taste, which for me is ALOT. barely bring to simmer. Add 1 can of campbells mushroom soup and 1 can of milk and heat stirring often.
    You can play with sauted onion, celery whatever. I prefer it just as it is.

  33. Cathy B.

    THANK YOU FOR THIS RECIPE!!! I am from Maine and I am very familiar with the simple version of oyster stew mentioned frequently above. Never could stand the stuff -boring, no flavor, thin. Didn’t really matter because when you have a delicious lobster and steamers at hand, who needs oysters? I moved to Virginia last year and there went my easy access to lobsters and steamers. Shucked oysters are easy to come by here, however, so I made the oyster stew version I grew up with – oysters and their liquor, milk, butter, salt and pepper. It was just as unappealing as I remembered. Tonight I came across your recipe and decided to give it a try. Oh my God! SO good! Made it according to your directions except I also added about a tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning. The flavors and the texture of the stew were phenomenal. I also discovered I have always been seriously overcooking oysters. Adding them in and cooking them gently for just a few minutes made a huge difference. Thanks to you, I can now say I love Oyster Stew! :-)

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