Here, in Charleston we are lucky to have some warmer weather thawing us out, but I know that winter still has its hold on the folks up North! And regardless of your geographic location I am sure that everyone could a little gustatory hug as February drags on...
Well, I happen to have the perfect dish -- my father's oyster stew! Of course, you will need some freshly shucked oysters, but even inland states have great seafood markets! Seek one out and try out this simple, elegant dish for your next dinner party.
Papa's Oyster Stew
Every holiday season of my youth my father and I would go buy a Christmas tree together, and then we would buy quarts of freshly shucked oysters to make his famous stew while trimming the tree. Freshly shucked oysters may seem a bit incongruous if you remember that my hometown is the extremely inland hamlet of Columbus, Georgia. But my father's good friends, the Lunsfords, owned Rose Hill Seafood where they brought in oysters straight from Apalachicola, Florida. The flavor of those oysters and especially this stew is the flavor of my childhood.
1 quart shucked oysters and their liquor
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Oyster crackers, for garnish
Place the oysters in a colander set over a bowl to drain off liquor. Reserve liquor and oysters.
Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. When foam subsides, add the onions and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved oyster liquor and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the milk and cream; bring to a simmer. Add the oysters; cook until their outer edges begin to curl, about 5 minutes. Serve hot with oyster crackers.
YIELD: About 4 entree servings
P.S. The stew might require more salt depending on the salinity of the oysters, but it is best not to oversalt at the outset.
P.P.S. I love a lot of black pepper in creamy dishes like this stew, but feel free to use less than the recommended 2 teaspoons if your palate is sensitive to spice.