Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Billie's Oyster Stew

The first time I ever had oyster stew, it was made by my mother-in-law to be. She was from Louisiana and I thought that the oyster stew was wonderful. So rich with cream and a shimmer of butter on the top. She died in her early 50's and after that it was up to me to carry on the tradition. Over time, I've changed up the recipe a bit.....well actually I never had a recipe. I just tried to remember how I saw her make it but nevertheless over time the way to make oyster stew has become my own. Two of the three sons love my oyster stew and the other one isn't fond of oysters at all.

During the holidays, Son #1 wanted to make oyster stew one night and he called me for the "recipe." I couldn't give it to him because I just eyeball the amount of oysters and juice and come up with the rest of the ingredients. Since we were headed to his house, I told him to wait and I'd walk him through making it.

Son #1 isn't blessed with patience and he wants things done fast. He wanted to put the onion and celery in a little chopper and be done with that. So I tried to explain that it is better to chop and mince the onion and celery with a sharp knife because then the pieces are uniform and more of the juice stays in the pieces. He wanted to know why you couldn't just turn up the fire and make the roux faster but there is something going on between the butter and the flour that takes some time to meld. I think he saw the right color for roux....just a golden yellow, I hope he remembers it. So much of cooking is by sight and smell and when you have always done it without a recipe suddenly having to explain what you are doing and why is hard to do because this process has become an automatic response to the ingredients.

But the hardest part to explain was the amount of flour to the amount of butter to make the amount of "juice" to go with the amount of oysters that you have. I just eyeballed the flour and butter but I've realized that I need to be able to give him more of a guideline in making the roux. So I've been thinking a lot about quantifying how I make it so I can write down least he will have a starting point. I've looked at some other oyster stew recipes and while what I make is different at least it has given me some ideas for the proportions particularly with the roux. So I'm writing down a starting point and the next time we are in Houston during oyster season I'll see if I can verify and/or refine the starting point.

If you want to experiment, here is a starting point but if you try it you have to let me know what worked or if you had to change it up.

2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 cup onion chopped fine
1 clove garlic minced fine
6-8 tablespoons butter
6-8 tablespoons flour
1 can evaporated milk (13 ozs)
1 qt. half and half
red pepper
black pepper
1 quart oysters and their juice

Drain oysters in colander and save juice.
Cook juice in a small pan until reduced by 1/4 to 1/2
In a large sauce pan saute celery and onion in butter until wilted
Add garlic and cook for 1 minute
Add flour and cook over low to medium heat until it turns to a golden yellow roux.
Add juice from the oysters and evaporated milk cooking over low fire and whisking until smooth adding the half and half milk gradually. If necessary add some regular milk to make a nice "gravy" consistency
Add salt and black and red pepper. (I don't know how much to add of will have to be by taste but go heavier with the red pepper than the black pepper. We like a good "bite" from the red pepper.
When the sauce is ready, add the oysters and cook until the edges of the oysters curl.
Check seasonings again and serve.
I have added a little sprinkle of finely chopped parsley on the top to "dress it up" a bit as well as a bit of butter to melt on top of the stew. This isn't low-cal....but then we don't have it very often either.

Don't forget, if you try it, let me know what you think about the amounts of the ingredients. And the next time I'm in Houston, I'll do this starting point recipe and I'll post my adjustments.

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