We published our first recipe for oyster casserole, shared by Mrs. A. M. Tennison of Nashville, in 1967, and we’ve featured dozens of variations since. Although this classic dish has had a treasured spot on Southerners’ holiday tables, you’d be hard-pressed to find two cooks who make it the same way—or even call it the same thing. Depending on where you grew up, you might know it as oyster dressing, oyster pie, or even scalloped oysters. Recipes vary widely, with the exception of a few common components: oysters, a rich and creamy sauce, and a crispy topping, often Ritz Crackers, saltines, or breadcrumbs. Our Test Kitchen looked back at all of our recipes, and, after some tinkering, came up with what we think is the best version ever: plump oysters baked in a rich Parmesan cream sauce and topped with buttery breadcrumbs. Whatever name you give it, or however you serve it, it will remain a favorite decadent Christmas tradition.
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs (from 1/4 baguette)
How to Make It
Preheat broiler. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium-high. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, scallions, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until vegetables soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Add oysters and mushrooms. Bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Set aside.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a small saucepan over medium. Whisk in flour, and cook, whisking constantly, until smooth, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add cream, and cook, whisking constantly, until very thick and beginning to bubble. Add Parmesan, and cook, whisking constantly, until cheese is melted. Remove from heat.
Using a fine wire-mesh strainer, strain oyster mixture; discard liquid. Add oyster mixture to cheese sauce; stir until fully incorporated. Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Spread mixture in a lightly greased (with cooking spray) 11- x 7-inch baking dish. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter; toss breadcrumbs with melted butter. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over oyster mixture.
Broil on middle rack of oven until breadcrumbs are deep golden brown and mixture is bubbly, 4 to 5 minutes.