Oyster Stew

So back to oyster consideration. The Husband and I made quick work of the oysters I brought home that fateful day, while watching our Thursday night TV on the DVR (Big Bang Theory and Person of Interest).

My oyster obsession (and that’s what it was) intensified. I had yet to taste the decadence of M.F.K Fisher’s oyster stew, and was driven to do so, although after eating the delicate little Malpeques raw, I couldn’t imagine how cooking them could be a good thing.

My next trip to the fish market, I came home with two dozen much larger oysters, Bluepoints from Long Island, and Wellfleets from Massachusetts. These oysters were completely different from the Malpeques, and from each other, in flavor. The Bluepoints were sharply brinier, like a cold sea wind in your face,  and yet the oyster meat was still a delicate sweet bite. The Wellfleets were much stronger in flavor, more oyster-y, and I’m sorry that doesn’t help those of you who are un-oyster-initiated, but that’s really the only way I have of explaining. As elk or venison is more gamey than beef, so the Wellfleets are more oystery than the Bluepoints and Malpeques. Most of the Wellfleets were also enormous, so I decided to use them in the stew, as they were a bit daunting to consider raw.

I had done my recipe research (of course I had; those of you who know me well, know I research everything to death), and found that oyster stew is made quite differently in the Midwest than in New England and the Northeast. The Midwestern version has vegetables, seasonings, and as many versions as there are Midwestern families making it. Here in New England, it has four ingredients: oysters, milk, cream, butter. It is occasionally garnished with paprika or parsley, served with worcestershire or Tobasco, salt and pepper to taste, and common crackers or oyster crackers. Sourcing the Union Oyster House Cookbook, the Yankee Magazine Best New England Recipes-Homemade Favorites, and The Yankee Cookbook, I prepared mine thusly:

Oyster Stew

1 pint half and half
2 T butter
12-18 oysters, freshly shucked, with their liquor

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Heat the half and half in another saucepan until just starting to bubble around the edges.

Add the oysters and their liquor to the butter, and heat until the edges curl (no longer, they will turn rubbery if overcooked).

Add the heated half and half to the oyster/butter mixture, stir gently to combine, and serve immediately in warm bowls.

At last! Oyster stew. I took my first bite, and oh! The oyster took on a totally different character, flavorful and tender, the sharp sea flavor enveloped in the cream and butter like they were soulmates. This dish is so luscious, rich, and creamy. So rich in fact, that rather than serve two with this recipe, we decided it should serve four as an appetizer. Not that we let that stop us, no, we both ate and ate, crumbling common crackers into the broth to soak it all up. This is a dish that has to be savored slowly, simply can’t be wolfed down mindlessly, yet it is surprisingly hectic to prepare. The Husband was lucky to get the photos he got, because the timing is so important. Cooking butter and oysters wait for no man, not even the one with the camera.

I had finally walked in Fisher’s shoes. I could completely understand how, on a bitter New England night, this was one of the most amazing things she had ever eaten. Oyster stew is truly food that warms the entirety of a person, head to toe, inside-out. But my obsession with the oyster has not been sated. Now that the cooked oyster has revealed its charms to me, I am haunted by more elaborate preparations, such as Oysters Rockefeller and Scalloped Oysters. Oyster Stuffing, and Stuffed Oysters. Obsession, thy name is Oyster.

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4 comments

  1. That looks amazing. I love oysters. I haven’t made oyster stew in ages but when I did, I used the Coyote Cafe recipe which puts a Southwestern spin on it – green chilies.

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  2. Freshly shucked, in their liquor? Sounds a bit like a college girl dancing on the bar. Ha! Just kidding.
    I am terrified of oysters, but they are so darn nutrient dense that I am going to have to give them a try. I suppose anything with heavy cream and butter must be delicious!

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    • Oysters intimidated me greatly, and I had this image (planted by some relative’s long ago comment) of a slimy, goopy experience. So totally not true, they are fabulous. But don’t try to shuck them with anything but an oyster knife-the pointy end is, well, pointy, but there’s no sharp edge, so you won’t cut yourself with it. The oyster shells are more likely to cut you than the oyster knife.
      And, yeah, heavy cream and butter make everything better.

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