A traditional dish in the Midwest at Christmas, oyster stew, an oyster soup really, just fresh oysters steeped in a milky broth.
Unlikely Fact: Oyster stew is a Midwestern specialty.
As long as I can remember, I’ve made oyster stew on Christmas Eve for my Iowa-born father, who remembers it fondly from his childhood. In my family, he’s the only one who eats oyster stew, just gently cooked fresh oysters in a milky broth, an oyster soup, really. But he doesn’t mind, all the more for him!
The question is, how would oyster stew become a specialty in states like Iowa and Missouri and Minnesota and Nebraska? The coasts, sure, where fresh oysters would be easily had; but the Midwest during the 1930s and 1940s, when oysters would have travelled long distances? (My dad remembers refrigerated rail cars, perhaps that’s it.)
So it’s a mystery to me. What’s not a mystery is how this oyster stew recipe is relished – think silent but obvious appreciation, think spoons clinking the sides of bowls then spooning up the last drops. It’s a keeper, a worthy specialty for the Midwest, proving once again that when it comes to treating those you love to a childhood specialty, it’s just fine for ‘traditional flavor’ to trump ‘local fervor’.
Here's wishing Kitchen Parade readers a very merry Christmas!
Time to table: 30 minutes
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons flour or arrowroot
- 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Dash of white pepper
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 pint fresh oysters and their liquor
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- Additional salt & white pepper to taste
- 4 pats of butter, optional
In a saucepan, heat the milk just to the boiling point, but do not allow to boil. (Kitchen Lingo: this is called ‘scalding the milk’.)
Separately, stir together the flour, salt, pepper and water in a large saucepan until a smooth paste forms. Stir in the oysters and their liquor and cook over medium-low heat until the oysters’ edges begin to curl. Add the scalded milk and Worcestershire sauce. Take off heat, cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Briefly heat again to return to temperature.
With a slotted spoon, transfer oysters into four individual bowls, spoon milk mixture over top. Sprinkle with additional white pepper. If you like, top with a pat of butter. Serve immediately.
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