Indian Summer has finally given way to crisp chill of oyster weather. It’s November, the third month from September through April containing an “R,” and we are well into oyster season, but it took a monster late season hurrricane/nor’easter/winter weather event to usher in the appropriate chill. Which raises some questions: how do oysters fare during such an extreme weather event? Are they safely snuggled in their oysters beds while a storm rages overhead? Or are they, too, in need of disaster relief? Will there be Blue Points for Thanksgiving? And if not, will it be because of a lack of oysters or because the oystermen are are still pumping out their homes?
This calls for some research. Hmm…high winds, heavy rains, and storm surge all cause problems for oyster beds. Pounding waves can physically damage their beds; storm surge can bring damaging sedimentation; and heavy rains or ocean surge can bring about extreme changes in salinity. Ocean surge can dramatically increase the salinity of bay oysters; storm run-off can dilute the salinity of ocean bivalves. This does not bode well for the Blue Points this year. Or the incredibly tasty Cape May Salts. The Chincoteagues were spared the violent brunt of the storm, but it remains to be seen if the huge rainfall and storm water run-off impacted them. The Susquehanna watershed is pretty big.
I partook of my first oysters of this season last month in Cape May. The local Cape May Salts are a good briny oyster, and I thoroughly enjoyed slurping the tender, slippery, seasalty bivalves. A couple of weeks ago we were dining in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and enjoyed some salty Chincoteagues. Now our mouths are primed for oysters, and we’re pining for more, especially the Blue Points that we traditionally have on Turkey Day.
Friday night, John stopped at Gibby’s to buy oysters on his way home from work. Being way too tired to want to shuck them himself, he bought them in a plastic container. Normally, we prefer to eat the oyster from its own shell, but pre-shucked oysters are better than no oysters at all. I’ve even figured out how to serve them—on deviled egg plates. Seriously, how often do I make deviled eggs? Once a year on Easter. But those egg plates, shaped not-unlike an oyster shell, have twelve little scoopy spots that are just perfect for serving shell-less oysters. I plop twelve oysters into each of the two plates and serve one to John and one to me, ideally topped with my mignonette or a bit of cocktail sauce. Ta dah. It sure looks nicer than a little bowl of gray oyster loogies.
(Personal note to this year’s Thanksgiving oyster initiate: you did not just hear me compare oysters to loogies. If you can eat tough, chewy clams, you most certainly can eat delicate oysters.)
Friday night’s oysters were fine, but they weren’t salty. Alas, the seafood store could not attest to their origin. They did not shuck those oysters themselves; they just accepted delivery of oyster-filled containers. For all we know they came from the Gulf of Mexico. They would have tasted better with a good mignonette, but I was too worn out by my Hurricane Sandy induced one-day work week to chop up the ingredients. Anyway, by Saturday night they were destined for oyster stew, a worthy culinary fate.
Here’s the recipe for John’s Oyster Stew. The one he made Saturday was perhaps the best ever, so, even if don’t rave over a raw oyster, that does not mean I won’t rave over it in a stew.
John’s Oyster Stew
- 1 quart shucked oysters, strained with 1 cup oyster liquid saved
- 4 cups milk
- 2/3 of a half-pint of heavy cream (Yeah, it’s a weird amount but that’s what he used. I think I’d dump the whole container in, but, hey, it’s not my recipe.)
- 6 tablespoons butter, divided
- salt and pepper to taste
- worcestershire to taste
- tabasco to taste
- fresh parsley for garnish
- oyster crackers
Saute the strained oysters in large soup pot with the 4 T of butter until oyster edges curl and liquid has started to boil. Add the milk, 1 cup oyster liquids (the “liquor”), and the cream. Add the remaining butter. Heat the stew until hot–the butter should melt, the soup should be steamy but must not boil. Add salt, pepper, worcestershire, and tabasco to taste. When steamy hot, remove from heat. Serve garnished with fresh parsley and oyster crackers.
I like my stew to have a little zip to it. John does not want to actually taste the worcestershire or the tabasco. He wants the oyster flavor to shine, but the worcestershire and tabasco are still necessary to add interest and complexity to the milk based broth.
So support the oyster industry–go buy some (preferably local) oysters. Or, if you really can’t swallow an oyster, show your solidarity by drinking a Flying Dog “Pearl Necklace” Oyster Stout. I don’t know how they make beer with oysters, but this is a nice one. Really. And it doesn’t taste like oysters at all. Here’s hoping–and praying– that the East Coast oystermen and their oysters make a speedy recovery from Hurricane Sandy.