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In my family, oyster stew is reserved for holidays: elegant, somehow “fancy” – we usually save it for Christmas Eve. Our traditional version is thin and loaded with oysters; this version is a little thicker and more hearty.

I made this stew last night for a small dinner party, and it was a lovely and relatively simple dish for a cold autumn night. The richness of the broth is full of warmth and comfort, and pairs well with a crisp salad of winter vegetables like cabbage or Brussels sprouts and spiced nuts. We served this with crusty Italian ciabbata bread and an excellent white rioja, but it would stand up to any robust white wine without too much oak.

You will need:

  • About 1 ½ lbs. shucked fresh oysters, with 1 cup of the liquor set aside. I like to use small to small-medium oysters; too large and they have to be bitten in half, which doesn’t work well for soups
  • 1 ½ sticks butter
  • a handful of flour
  • 4 ribs celery, thinly chopped
  • ½ bulb garlic (6 to 8 cloves), peeled, smashed, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • ½ cup finely chopped curly parsley
  • salt, pepper, cayenne
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream

1. Pour the liquid out of the oysters and set it aside. Carefully rinse and strain the oysters to remove any bits of shell or grit.

2. Combine the oyster liquor with 1 cup of water in a large soup pot. Heat the liquid to a simmer, and then add the oysters, cooking just long enough for their edges to curl and for them to plump up – about 2 minutes. Strain the oysters from the liquid (put a bowl under a sieve) and set both aside to cool separately.

3. Return the soup pot to the heat and add the butter. Once it melts, toss in a handful of flour and whisk it around until it is completely absorbed. Cook the roux until it is golden brown, then add the chopped vegetables. Sautee in the roux until the celery and onion are very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Some of the milk can be added to prevent things from sticking.

4. When you are nearly ready to serve, add the milk, cream, oysters, and liquor to the vegetables and stir it all together. Allow the milk to thicken – about 5 minutes.

5. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne, and Worcestershire to taste and ladle into soup bowls. Serve immediately.

I found this recipe in the November, 2008 edition of Saveur; I have adapted it somewhat – my version has bolder flavors and less cream.

Incredible Oyster Stew
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