Play With Your Food: The Shelter Island oyster stew challenge

TOM HASHAGEN PHOTO | How about a nice bowl of oyster stew?

TOM HASHAGEN PHOTO | How about them oysters?

When I was a neophyte cook, I was gifted an edition of Yankee Magazine’s “Favorite New England Recipes” (1972) from my aunt Jane, originally from Plymouth, Massachusetts. Countless times over the last 40 years I have gone to this book for classic recipes like Haddock Smother, Sour Cream Cornbread, Baked Beans and Indian Pudding.

It was this book I turned to, looking for an authentic Oyster Stew recipe that would highlight the delicious natural flavor of these local bivalves.

After a bit of research I decided to try some “Oyster Pond” oysters from East Marion, raised by Reggie Tuttle. These particular oysters have found their way to some the finest restaurant tables in New York, and are distributed exclusively by Braun Seafood in Cutchogue. Reggie was pretty cagey when I asked him what makes his oysters so good, but he did say that their location in a creek where the water changes completely every six hours, along with daily attention to the product, were two major factors.

Back to the cooking! The recipe, over 150 years old, was simple — oysters, their liquor, butter, flour, cream, salt, pepper and mace. I followed the recipe exactly, but the straight liquor from the oysters was so salty it made the dish (almost) inedible. The flavor of the succulent oysters was amazing, but clearly, something had to be done to make it palatable.

The simple solution was to cut the liquor with an equal measure of water. I did so and tried again, with a much more satisfactory result. The cream and butter highlighted the flavor and added a smoothness to the product. Had I not been aiming for purity, I might have added chorizo or bacon, herbs and onions or garlic, but the first two of those ingredients would have added even more salt.

So here’s a challenge for you! Take the following simple recipe for Oyster Stew, and do what you want to make it special. Think vegetables, herbs, corn, wine, who knows? Know a secret spot for some Shelter Island oysters? Have at ‘em!

Write down your recipe and email it to: [email protected]. I will personally select the top three entries, prepare them and let an esteemed panel of judges (that would be me and the Reporter staff) determine the best one. The winning cook’s recipe will be published in the October 6 edition of the Reporter, and he or she will also receive two tickets to the Shelter Island Historical Society’s Oyster Event, to be held at the Haven’s House Barn Saturday, October 15. All entries must be received by Monday, September 26.

Play around! Have fun!

Oyster Stew

(adapted from Yankee Magazine’s “Favorite New England Recipes”)

Prep time: 15 minutes  |  Cooking time: 10 minutes  |  4 servings

Ingredients:

4 dozen oysters, unshucked

½ cup water

4 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons flour

6 tablespoons heavy cream

2 pinches of ground mace

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toast or oyster crackers

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Procedure:

1. Shuck the oysters over a bowl to catch the oyster liquor.

2. Swish each oyster in the liquor to get rid of shell fragments, and then place the collected oysters in a bowl (yeild about 1 cup.)

3. Strain the liquor through several layers of cheesecloth into a saucepan.

4. Add the oysters to the pan. Slowly bring the oysters just to a simmer, or until they begin to “pucker”. Remove the oysters to a bowl and reserve a ½ cup of the warm liquor.

5. In another saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, then add the flour and cook for a minute. Add ½ cup of reserved oyster liquor, the ½ cup water, cream, mace and pepper to the butter and flour mixture. Cook gently for a minute or two, until slightly thick.

6. Return the oysters to the stew, just warming them. Do not boil, lest the oysters become hard. Ladle the stew into warmed bowls lined with either a piece of toast or oyster crackers. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve.

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