We’re so used to many-ingredient stews that cook for hours that when the recipe for oyster stew landed in our kitchen, it looked almost too simple.
We wondered if something was missing from the ingredient list or a step was left off the directions. The stew was pretty much oysters, liquid in the form of milk and half-and-half, celery, and seasonings. The instructions said to cook “until the oysters curl at their edges,” which is just a matter of minutes.
And so, before stepping into the kitchen we did a little reading and learned the recipe was similar to the oyster stews Americans, especially along the Atlantic coast, have been eating for years.
It may even be related to the oyster stews Native Americans taught the Colonists to make centuries ago. We also learned there was a time when oysters were so plentiful that people thought nothing of serving community suppers with oysters in every course.
Although we would never go so far as to begin a meal with pickled oysters and finish it off with oyster patties, we love the idea of sitting down to a bowl of oyster stew. As you can imagine, cooks have had a good time doctoring the recipe, and we’ve seen versions with everything from lemon grass to curry powder and potatoes.
Our favorite tinkering, which has nothing to do with the recipe, are the oyster crackers that go with the stew. Invented by two New Jersey brothers in 1847, the puffy little “biscuits” help transform an old-fashioned stew into a memorable meal.
—By Jean Kressy