I am allowed to give this post such a grandiose title because it’s not my recipe! This oyster stew is inspired by my father (Papa) who passed away in 2001. I grew up eating this stew during the winter, and I specifically remember it during the holidays — right about the time we would decorate the Christmas tree.
Papa would buy shucked oysters from our local oyster bar – Rosehill Seafood. And he would pull out a beat up, metal pot that seems gargantuan in my memory. There was a celebratory feeling every time.
In reality, I think his recipe came by way of that oyster bar. Rosehill is an institution in Columbus, GA (my hometown.) The very fact that landlocked Columbus has an oyster bar is a miracle, and it was a special gift to me as I developed a love for all oysters – raw and cooked at an early age! Rosehill’s owners (the Lunsfords) became friends of my father (who truthfully never met a stranger.) And thus he ended up with some version of their oyster stew recipe.
It is also a miracle that I just happened to ask Papa for a copy before his death. This was just about the time I became totally obsessed with food and cooking. I was working at Emeril’s Delmonico in New Orleans and also writing for Emeril’s website where we published all sorts of food related articles. Writing about Papa’s Oyster Stew prompted me to ask for the recipe and put it on paper. Before this I am not sure any sort of recipe was written down!
At the time, I was in my early twenties and my parents’ immortality still seemed vaguely possible. So when my father suddenly died of a heart attack I was devastated. It was probably not until a year later that I even felt up to making this stew. It just so happens that my father’s birthday falls on December 1st, and cooking oyster stew has turned into a fine way to remember him and times in the kitchen with that beat up, metal pot.
Of course, pairing the oyster stew with wine is a more recent part of the celebration. Ultimately, I think that a mineral driven white that is reminiscent of oysters works beautifully. I love Chardonnay from its homeland in Burgundy, France – specifically, Chablis! This wine has the acidity to cut through the richness of the stew but also the body to compliment.
P.S. The most important part of this dish (besides fresh, delicious oysters) is to serve it with plenty of oyster crackers!
Papa’s Oyster Stew
1 quart shucked oysters and their liquor
3 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 ½ cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
Additional, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Oyster crackers for garnish
Drain the oysters and reserve the liquor. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the foam subsides add the onions, salt, and pepper and cook until onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add oyster liquor and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the milk and cream and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and add oysters. Cook until their outer edges begin to curl, about 5 minutes. Season with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Serve with oyster crackers.
Yield: 4 entrée servings
P.S. This is one of those simple but delicious recipes. Over the years I have fancied it up a bit by adding the step to reduce the oyster liquor, but essentially it is the same recipe I enjoyed as a child!