Share Our Holiday Table – Oyster Stew.
Share Our Strength is a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating childhood hunger in the US by 2015. The goal of their “No Kid Hungry Campaign” is to ensure no child ever goes hungry again. One dollar can help connect a child with up to 10 healthy meals.
To raise awareness, they’ve created “Share Our Holiday Table” a collaborative fundraising effort where more than 50 food bloggers will offer unique recipes for the holidays, everything from appetizers to dessert. Every day from 12/6 to 12/14 a different course will be highlighted.
Christmas Eve at our house in Virginia always meant one thing – oysters. We couldn’t afford oysters any other time of the year, but a jar would always materialize on Christmas Eve. A big ol’ mayonnaise jar full, like one of those jars you use for putting up jelly or okra. Yep, no fancy shucking going on in 1978 middle class suburbia. These babies were probably bought at the local Safeway, the glass jar brought home oh so carefully, like it was some exotic precious jewel.
We’d eat them every which way – fried, raw, in soup. As a kid, I liked fried best because my dad did them perfectly – just a little breading, not tough, then dipped in cocktail sauce. The more daring of the family would eat them raw – always on a saltine cracker with a drop of lemon juice, and a drop of Tabasco. Down the hatch. We would scream, “Ew!” every time Dad ate one of those nasty, slimy things.
Now, of course, I love ‘em. I’ve never had them fried where they were as good as Dad made them. They always end up greasy and tough. I guess memory colors things – they may have tasted like crap back then but I always thought they were perfect.
Now I eat them raw – just raw, not with anything. The best oysters taste like the sea, just a little brine, and they’re not fishy, or slimy, or gross. They taste like the ocean. And are perfect with white wine or champagne. Real “A Moveable Feast” kinda stuff. Hemingway knew what the hell he was talking about.
These days I eat them whenever I can get them fresh – not just on Christmas Eve. And not from a jar either. But I do miss the moment when that jar would come out, because then you’d know Santa was almost here. It must be Christmas Eve because we were having oysters.
When I was asked to do a soup course for the Share Our Strength Holiday Table, I knew it would be Oyster Stew. I’m a Virginian. Anything else would be sacrilege. And I knew it would be Miss Edna’s recipe. Because anything else would be sacrilege. Edna Lewis is a pantheon of Southern cooking. And a native of Orange County, Virginia. Could there be any other holiday soup? I think not.
I was more than a little intimidated. I’d never attempted any of Edna’s recipes before, simply paged though her cookbooks like they were Bibles. Look but don’t touch. Not only that, I would attempt her FRIED oysters for some texture. Would I eradicate the memory of my father’s perfectly fried sea jewels? Or fail miserably?
(from The Taste of Country Cooking)
1 qt oysters
1 1/2 tbsp butter
3 cups scalded milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Drain the oysters. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a hot skillet, then add the oysters, turning them on both sides until they begin to curl. Pour in the scalded milk and transfer the mixture to a saucepan. Pour the cream into the skillet and boil rapidly until reduced by one half, then add the reduced cream to the oyster mixture and heat on a medium flame; do not boil. Add cayenne, nutmeg, and salt to taste, and just before serving add 1/2 tablespoon butter. Serve when hot and garnish with chopped parsley.
(from The Taste of Country Cooking)
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 cups plain cracker meal (I substituted cornmeal)
1 qt oysters, drained
Place the eggs in a bowl, add salt, beat well with a fork, and add in the peanut oil. Place a cup of cracker meal on a sheet of wax paper. With a fork, pick up each oyster, dip it into the egg mixture, and place it upon the cracker meal. To bread the oyster, shift the wax paper. Place each oyster on a second plain sheet of wax paper as it is breaded and let stand a few minutes before frying. To fry, heat an aluminum skillet with 1/2 cup lard; when it reaches the smoking point, put oysters in and fry them until they turn a golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain the oysters on a piece of brown paper and serve while hot and crispy.
So how did it turn out? Well…..2 burned fingers, 1 broken bowl, and 1 really smoky lard-house later, I learned Edna Lewis’s oyster stew is a little more difficult than it looks. I probably didn’t reduce the cream enough, I totally forgot the oyster crackers (SACRILEGE!), I had to use Sriracha sauce instead of cocktail sauce, and actually peanut oil works a bit better than lard for frying. The results weren’t bad, although I still think Dad’s oysters were better (nostalgia at work) and next time I’d add some potatoes or leeks to add a little texture to the stew. Nonetheless, I had a great time making it. And I’m so proud to be involved in such a great cause.
Be sure to check out my colleagues also participating in today’s course, and check in with all the other fabulous bloggers doing courses until 12/16. Happy Holidays!