Everything You Need To Know To Make Oyster Stew

Classic Oyster Stew
Photo: Hector Sanchez

Oysters—delicious fried, roasted, grilled, baked, and raw—are found in many regional, traditional dishes across the South, from Louisiana gumbos and po'boys to low country oyster casserole. As a locally-sourced ingredient, Southerners can enjoy oysters from the both the Gulf and east coasts. And some even make this shellfish a part of their travels by sampling fresh oysters straight from the source on the oyster trails of North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia.

Many home cooks may avoid using fresh oysters in their shells because they are unsure about oysters' shelf life, seasonality, and preparation. Let us recommend starting with an easy and comforting stew, which includes our guide to picking and shucking oysters. Look no further for our Classic Oyster Stew recipe, one of Southern Living's best oyster recipes. It's simple, which means the flavor of the oysters is of utmost importance.

Oysters From the South

Using fresh oysters will provide the best flavor for this Classic Oyster Stew. Thankfully, much of the South, especially states on the Eastern seaboard, has access to quality oysters. Rappahannock River Oysters and Lynnhaven Oysters of Virginia, Caper's Blades Oysters of South Carolina, Point aux Pins Oysters of Alabama, Pepper Grove Oysters of Texas, and others are only a few options. Other common regional oyster categories you will come across are West Coast, which can have a sweet or buttery flavor, from the Pacific Ocean, and East Coast, which are briny and savory, from the Atlantic Ocean, according to New York City's Fulton Fish Market.

Farmed vs. Wild Oysters

Also, do not worry that there will be a huge flavor difference between wild and farmed oysters. Farmed oysters are more consistent in size and shape than wild oysters, but this does not affect the meat inside. The only possible concern is where wild oysters have been harvested. Oysters are natural filters, which means they clean the water around them. This can be a problem when they live in polluted waters, because some of the pollution might be absorbed into the meat. If buying wild oysters, ask about their original location.

When Can You Eat Oysters?

It used to be that eating oysters in the summer months were avoided to prevent the risk of foodborne illness, but oysters can now be eaten any time of year with the advancement of farming and storage practices. "Local oysters still usually have a peak season, but it's always oyster season somewhere, so we can source them from around the country and world," according to Sheri Castle, a contributing editor for Southern Living. This oyster stew is a traditional holiday dish—if you're shucking your own oysters for this recipe, choose ones that are in season.

Prepare the Oysters

To prepare for this stew, you can either shuck the oysters from their shell while reserving the liquid, or you can use a pint of store-bought shucked oysters. Make sure not to drain them, as you will need one cup of oyster liquor. Not sure how to shuck oysters? Food Network Chef Michael Smith's two-minute oyster shucking video tutorial will get you up and running in no time.

Start Making the Stew

This stew comes together in just 35 minutes. First, heat the cup of reserved oyster liquid and 2 cups of milk until steaming, then add in the oysters with salt and pepper to taste. Cook just until the edges of the oysters begin to curl, about 4 to 5 minutes. Then, remove the pan from heat, and using a slotted spoon, transfer the oysters to a plate to prevent them from overcooking. Err on the side of just underdone rather than overdone, as the oysters will be added back into the stew and can finish cooking then.

Make a Roux and Combine

With butter and shallots, make a roux in a separate pan. Whisk in half-and-half, Worcestershire sauce, sherry, and celery salt. After it comes to a boil, add in the milk mixture and the oysters, heating until warm. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice, and hot sauce to your liking, then serve with crackers. Again, because this is a simple stew, the quality of the ingredients will affect the final product, so make sure to use the best available.

More Oyster Recipes

Oysters are versatile shellfish that can be prepared in a multitude of ways, whether raw on the half-shell to deep fried. To explore more ways to cook with oysters, check out our favorite recipes like Oysters Rockefeller, Baked Oysters with Bacon, Greens, and Parmesan, Oven-Roasted Oysters with Mushrooms and Watercress, or Mini Tacos with Fried Oysters, Pimiento Cheese, and Fennel Slaw.

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