Oyster stew is rich, silky and luxurious. This simple recipe with it's creamy broth is easy to make and only takes a few ingredients. Oyster stew is an elegant and tasty holiday dinner or starter.
Traditional Creamy Oyster Soup
Oyster stew is Christmas eve tradition on the East Coast of North America. It's enjoyed on holidays and other festive occasions during the cold months of the year. Here on the West Coast, our Pacific ocean grows crisp, clean briny oysters and I think they taste amazing in this roux based creamy soup.
The ingredients for this delicious soup are few and basic yet resulting in an impressive dish worthy of company which makes it perfect for a relaxing holiday meal whether cooking for 2 or for a crowd.
What to serve with oyster stew
Serve this rich and creamy stew with some crusty bread, traditional oyster crackers saltine or soda crackers.
If you're serving this at Christmas or New Years, pair this with a bottle of Champagne or dry sparkling wine. If you prefer your wine without bubbles, a bright white wine with some depth and acidity like a lightly oaked chardonnay, pinot grigio or chenin blanc pairs well.
Side dishes to serve with oyster stew include salads, both light and hearty. I love a flavorful winter salad like Rocket and Pear Salad that features rich blue cheese and roasted yam. For a lighter side, go with Crisp Apple Fennel Salad or Apple Walnut Salad.
Where did oyster stew originate?
The traditional oyster stew recipe was brought to the New England and the rest of the East Coast by Irish immigrants who adapted their traditional Ling (Fish) Soup recipe using the oysters that were growing in abundance on the beaches of their new home.
Where can I buy oysters?
I used fresh and local Fanny Bay oysters for this but there are many other delicious local varieties grown all around coastal North America. You can pick up a jarred oysters or a fresh shucked pint of oysters from the seafood counter at your local grocery store or market.
If you can't find fresh oysters, you can use a tin or two of plain canned oysters. If using canned oysters, be sure to use the oyster juice too.
Oysters tend to be at their briny, tasty, best in the winter. If you prefer raw oysters, now is the time to pick up some fresh oysters in the shell. Shuck them yourself or ask your local fishmonger to do it for you and enjoy them raw on the half shell this season. (For more local oyster info, check out the BC Oyster Guide here).
Oyster stew is more like a soup in texture. You can adjust the thickness to your preference by adding an extra 2-3 tablespoons each of flour and butter to the roux.
Oysters are the star ingredient and they are enhanced by milk and cream, a little sherry or white wine. Some fresh parsley aromatics and a touch of spice to taste round out the delicious briny seafood flavor.
In a large soup pot, sauté sliced leeks in ¼ cup of butter until translucent, then add in thyme.
Add celery and continue to saute for 2 more minutes. Add white wine or sherry and cook until it is reduced by half.
Reduce heat to low and stir in flour. Cook 2-4 minutes until bubbling but not brown.
Whisk in milk and cream. Once it is smooth, increase heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened.
If you have reserved oyster liquor (oyster liquid), strain it into the pot at this point. Do not let milk mixture boil, turn temperature down to low if needed to keep stew just under a simmer.
Remove pot from heat and scoop out the thyme sprig. Puree mixture if desired with an immersion blender and season to taste with salt, regular or white pepper and hot sauce.
Place pot back on low heat, pour in oysters and stir through gently. Once the edges of the oysters curl they are cooked to perfection.
Serve hot in bowls, garnishing with extra herbs, saltine crackers or even a small pat of butter in the middle.
- Leek - You can use an equal amount of diced sweet onion or the white and light green parts of green onions instead.
- Wine - Feel free to use an equal amount of non-alcoholic wine in this or substitute 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice if you don't want to use sherry or wine.
- Pepper - White pepper is traditional in creamy, light colored soups but black pepper is fine to use.
Some people like to add bacon, potato, bell pepper or other creative additions but it is generally agreed that as soon as you add these ingredients you've crossed the line from oyster stew to chowder. (That can be pretty delicious though!)
I've kept my version simple because I believe in this case, simple is truly the best. A little acidity from the sherry or wine and some fresh bright green flavor from the parsley are as far as I've ventured from tradition here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. Oyster stew freezes well once cooled and stored in an airtight container or bag. It will keep frozen well up to 3 months, I don't recommend freezing any longer than 6 months.
To thaw oyster stew, place the frozen container of soup in the fridge overnight, then reheat very gently when ready to eat. Be careful not to let the stew boil or your milk and cream can separate.
To keep the stew tasting fresh once reheated, I like to add another ½ c of heavy cream and a ½ c of chopped parsley and stir through. This is optional.
Yes. Freshly shucked oysters freeze very well in a sealed container for up to 3 months. You can freeze oysters in shell as well, though I recommend only freezing them this way for 1-2 months.
Yes. Thaw the container of frozen oysters in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Add them to the soup as per the recipe near the end.
I hope you are enjoying this holiday season and making special memories and new traditions with family and friends.
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- 4 tablespoon Butter
- ¼ c Leek, White Part Only, Diced ¼"
- ¼ c Celery, Diced ¼"
- 1 Thyme Sprig
- ¼ c Dry Sherry or White Wine
- 4 tablespoon Flour
- 2 c Whole Milk
- 1 c Heavy Cream (10% Or Heavier)
- ⅛-1/4 teaspoon Tobasco Or Other Hot Sauce
- Salt And Pepper To Taste White or black pepper as desired
- 1 Pint Shucked Oysters, Liquor Reserved Cut In Pieces If Very Large
- Parsley And/Or Paprika For Garnish
- In a medium saucepan, heat butter on medium-low and gently saute leeks and celery until translucent but not brown.
- Add thyme and saute 1 more minute, then add sherry or wine and reduce by half.
- Reduce heat to low and add in flour, stir until incorporated and cook for 2-4 minutes, until bubbling but not browned and then remove from heat.
- Whisk in milk and cream until smooth. Place pot back on medium low heat, stirring frequently to prevent lumps or burning and cooking until thickened. If you have reserved oyster liquor, strain it into the pot at this point. Do not let milk mixture boil, turn temperature down if needed to keep stew just under a simmer.
- Remove thyme sprig and puree mixture with an immersion blender or very carefully pour into a regular high speed blender and puree. Season to taste with salt (I used ¾ tsp), pepper and hot sauce.
- Add in oysters, stir gently and watch closely. As soon as the edges curl, remove from the heat, serve in bowls garnished with chopped parsley and dust with paprika if desired.
- Serve with crusty bread, oyster crackers or saltines.
- It is imperative that you do not let the soup boil. Keep the temperature low and remove from heat as soon as the oysters curl at the edges.
- If you use oyster liquor, add it before seasoning with salt. I find oyster liquor quite salty and need to reduce the added salt in a dish when using it.
- Strain oyster liquor to prevent any bits of oyster shells from getting into the soup.
- This recipe will double easily to feed more people.