Monday, December 24, 2018

Oyster Stew For Christmas-Legendary Recipes and Wine Pairings

“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.”
                                  Jonathan Swift

~Doc Lawrence

The colder weather of the holiday season harkens for tasty oysters. Early immigrants soon learned that what many had enjoyed in Europe were a staple in  much of the New World where Native Americans had been harvesting them for at least 3,000 years. Now, we enjoy them in stews, chowders, dressings, roasted and on the half shell. Boston’s Union Oyster House, opened in 1826, showcases gourmet bivalves. 
The popularity of oysters is omnipresent and here in the South, oyster stew is a ritual observed on Christmas Eve. Oyster dressing appears on the Christmas dinner table almost on cue. Enjoy these oyster recipes from the kitchens of experts. 

Oyster Stew For Christmas Eve
From The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock.
 Makes 6 servings.

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 medium sweet onion, finely diced (approximately 1 cup)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
5 cups of milk, heated
2 cups heavy cream
1 quart jar fresh “select” oysters, drained with their liquor reserved
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Melt half of the butter in a large nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is bubbling, add the onion and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring well to blend together. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and heavy cream and then the reserved oyster liquor, keeping it at low heat so that it doesn’t scorch. Keep it at a very light simmer.
Heat the remaining butter in a large skillet until hot and bubbling. Add the drained oysters in a single layer. Add sea salt and pepper and sauté until the oysters begin to curl around the edges.
Transfer the contents of the skillet into the saucepan. Add the cayenne, cover and remove from the heat to mellow for 10 minutes. Heat again to just below a simmer, and add more salt as necessary. Serve hot accompanied by oyster crackers or Benne biscuits.
A rich, glamorous winter side dish. Good at Christmas or anytime. Just don’t overcook the oysters! You want them at their creamy, velvety best.

Chef Joshua Butler, Atlanta

Chef Joshua Butler
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup chopped onion
4 green onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 cups crumbled Cornbread (either homemade or store bought)
3 cups bread crumbs, small dice*
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
2 large eggs lightly beaten
1 pint shucked fresh (live) oysters, drained (reserve 1/2 cup oyster liquid)**
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly butter a large rectangular baking pan.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Saute onions and celery in the butter until tender; remove from heat an add a small pinch of cayenne and let cool.
Combine cornbread and breadcrumbs in a large bowl.  Gently fold in sauteed onions, salt, pepper, and parsley.
Add beaten eggs and toss more; moisten with the reserved oyster liquid until moist but not soggy.  Gently stir in the oysters.
Pat the mixture into the prepared baking pan (it should make a 1-inch layer in the pan).
Dot with remaining butter and bake about 45 minutes, until golden brown and set in the center.

Fresh oysters in the shell as well as shucked can be found daily at Your Dekalb Farmers Market in Decatur, Georgia just outside Atlanta. Bonus, they are sourced from Apalachicola, Florida, Virginia and Washington State.

Wines: Champagne seems to have been created with oysters in mind. A bottle of bubbly, whether the real deal, or a Cremant from France, Cava from Spain or a sparkling wine from California’s Gloria Ferrer or New Mexico’s Gruet will add to the festive celebration.

                             Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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