I grew up near the Gulf Coast of Alabama, so naturally we ate a lot of fish and seafood. Shrimp, crab, and oysters were always plentiful. And while we ate shrimp and crab all year long, there was always one hard and fast rule about our bivalves: You should only eat oysters during months containing the letter “R.”
Nowadays, people say this guideline is just an old wives tale, but there’s actually a little science behind it. In the hot summer months, it’s harder to keep the oysters cool allowing bacteria to grow. And speaking of bacteria, it flourishes in warm summer waters so the likelihood that you might get sick from slurping down a quick dozen goes up right along with the temperature. And finally, the song “Summer Lovin’” applies to oysters as well as high schoolers. That’s right, oysters spawn in the warm months leaving them, well, spent and not as plump as usual. Ick.
After a long summer of no oysters, as soon as SeptembeR and OctobeR rolled around, it was always time for oyster stew. This milky, buttery, briney soup showcases everything that is good and right about an oyster. A bit of crunch from the celery gives it a little texture as do the mandatory oyster crackers (small, hexagonal crackers) you can float on the top. And if you don’t have proper oyster crackers, a broken up Saltine will do in a pinch.
Mama’s Oyster Stew
- 4 Tbl butter
- 4 Tbl flour
- 4 cups of milk
- ½ cup finely sliced celery
- ½ cup finely sliced green onion
- 1 pint oysters
- Salt and pepper to taste (Use white pepper so you don’t have unsightly black flecks in your stew.)
- Melt butter in a sauce pan.
- Remove from heat and stir flour into butter until you have a smooth paste. Return to heat and cook briefly until mixture bubbles. (This is called a roux, in case you were wondering.)
- Remove from heat and incorporate milk.
- Add about one-half cup of finely sliced celery and the same amount of green onion. Return to heat and stir until mixture begins to thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add oysters and cook until oysters begin to curl at edges. Do not overcook, as oysters will get smaller and smaller. Serve immediately.
For every person you have more than 4, just add 1 more tablespoon butter and flour and 1 more cup of milk.