Oyster stew is a traditional dish on the East Coast of North America. It’s popular to have on Christmas Eve but also other times of year too. I think it’s a great traditional recipe that we should adopt here on the West Coast because we have an abundance of these fresh and delicious bivalves too. Oyster stew is rich, silky, luxurious and full of briny umami flavour. It’s simple and easy with only a few ingredients and if you like oysters, I highly recommend you give this a try!
The traditional oyster stew recipe was brought to 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.
I used fresh and local Fanny Bay oysters for this but there are many other delicious local varieties grown all around here and oysters are at their briny, tasty best in the winter. If you don’t love cooked oysters then pick up some fresh in the shell from Stellar Bay Oysters or Cortes Island Oysters and enjoy them raw this season. (For more local oyster info, check out the BC Oyster Guide here).
Back to our recipe, this stew is more like a soup in texture though you can certainly adjust the thickness to your preference. This is deceptively simple, the ingredients 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. Oysters are the star and they are enhanced by milk and cream, a little sherry or white wine, some fresh parsley and aromatics, spice to taste and cooked just until the oysters edges curl indicating perfection, this is done start to finish easily in 30 minutes or less.
Some people like to add bacon, potato or even 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. I’ve decided to keep this 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 flavour from the parsley are as far as I’ve ventured from tradition here though I think it would be acceptable to make it more or less thick according to your taste.
Serve this rich and creamy stew with some crusty bread, traditional oyster crackers or easier to find but very similar saltine crackers. If you’re serving this at Christmas or New Years, this would be delicious served with a bottle of BC sparkling wine like the fabulous Unsworth Charme De L’Ile , Zanatta Fantasia or a bright white wine with some depth and acidity like a chardonnay, pinot grigio or chenin blanc.
PS. Don’t you love the oyster pottery in the pictures??? It is from local potters at Mussels and More Pottery and the bowl in the center is from Pottery For Peace (she donates partial proceeds from all sales to various charities), both are located in Campbell River
And if you want to feature more BC Seafood at your holiday table this year, check out the recipe archives for many more delish recipes made with local and sustainable seafood like my Low Carb Crab Cakes or the recent Mexican Style Shrimp Cocktail.
West Coast Oyster Stew
- 4 tbsp Butter
- 1/4 c Leek, White Part Only, Diced 1/4"
- 1/4 c Celery, Diced 1/4"
- 1 Thyme Sprig
- 1/4 c Dry Sherry or White Wine
- 4 tbsp Flour
- 2 c Whole Milk
- 1 c Heavy Cream (10% Or Heavier)
- 1/8-1/4 tsp Tobasco Or Other Hot Sauce
- Salt And Pepper To Taste
- 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 another minute.
- Whisk in milk and cream increase heat to medium-low, 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. Season to taste with salt (I used 3/4 tsp), pepper and hot sauce. (I had 1/4 cup oyster liquor which was added in step 4 and is salty. If you don't have any you may need more salt)
- 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.