One of our holiday traditions is Uncle Kevin’s Oyster Stew. Years past, he’s always had a nice big pot of it simmering on the stove welcoming us when we arrive for Thanksgiving eve. This year found me in charge of the oyster stew, stemming out of our offer to bring some of Smiley’s oysters for the purpose of making said stew. Uncle Kevin is not the sort who cooks from recipes nor is he the sort of make the same thing exactly the same way twice, so there was some wiggle room in how I made it. He sent me a link to a recipe that he thinks his was based on once upon a time. I took a brief glance at it and then went about making oyster stew the way I’ve been making it for a few years now, based on his as I know it.
I didn’t intend to post this recipe, which is why I didn’t bother taking pretty pictures of the process as I went along. I made it last Wednesday, as the snow was coming down, along with a batch of bread, so as everyone else arrived, there was something warm to eat. It wasn’t until I served it and RG asked for the recipe that it occurred to me to share this. And later in the weekend when I got a request from Joe to share my bread recipe, I realized I should just go ahead post both recipes, since they do pair well together. Not that I really need an excuse as to why I don’t have pretty pictures, because we all know I’m the food blogger who just doesn’t bother with the pretty food pictures. I still haven’t replaced my good camera and let’s face it, even when I had a decent working camera I didn’t always bother myself because I was too busy making it or it got eaten too fast or well, whatever.
Besides all that, oyster stew is just not very photogenic, at least the way I make it with butter, cream and bacon.
Instead, I’ll just show you the pictures I took of last Wednesday’s snowfall and my cousin Molly’s window display she did for The Bead over at The Shops at Kenilworth and the new piggies on the Royston’s farm (where we pit stopped on the way home Sunday) while talking about baking bread and making oyster stew.
So, the bread. This is my latest favorite easy-peasy recipe that I will show up and whip up in other people’s kitchen as well as my own on a regular basis. It’s originally from Beard on Bread and is the French Style Bread recipe. I’m going to add here for my friend Will that I’ve seen it referred to as ‘Cuban Bread’ as well (and yes Will, this is the recipe I keep telling you to go with, so make it this weekend and report back, mmmkay?). I’ve added a second rise (which is as long as you want it to be) and taken out the egg white wash which helps with the crispness of the crust. I also underbake it, so the end result is softer and oh so good dipped in a nice hot pot of soup or just smothered in butter. I’m the first to admit I have quite a butter habit and that I bake bread in order to have something to put it on, which is why I often will use whole grain flours when I bake, to balance out the effect of the butter on my cholesterol levels (they are at a 1:1 ratio, thank you very much). These days I’m doing a 3:1 ratio of white to whole grain with my current favorite whole grains being spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour. The texture of both is about the same as white flour and I find I don’t need to add too much additional liquid. I also don’t use all purpose flour when I bake bread, I prefer bread flour, which is labeled as such. Bread flour has more protein and gluten than all purpose flour, making for a better textured bread. You can use all purpose flour in making bread and it will turn out fine. I understand I’m special in my nine types of flour in my pantry, which I have been trying to whittle down to just the essentials (all purpose, bread, cake, spelt, whole wheat pastry, rye, corn meal).
Just a quick word about shaping – I cut my dough in half, then flatten it on a surface. I will roll it, with just a little pressure in the center, so that it becomes a long loaf. It’s hard to describe, so if you have a copy of Julia’s The Way to Cook, I’d reference her section on bread. (Joe, you’ll just have to come over for a lesson soon and maybe we’ll get Edie to photograph it so I can post it another time.)
As for the oyster stew, the amount of bacon, broth and cream used is highly variable. Because I knew we were about to eat high on the hog (no pun intended) for the remainder of the weekend (two Thanksgiving dinners on two consecutive days!), I went easy on the cream in this particular batch, but I’ve certainly made batches easy on the stock and heavy on the cream. You can vary the liquid in this as much as you like, making it thick and filling or lighter and perfect for a first course. Sometimes I’ll add carrots in with the celery if I have it on hand. Parsley is another good addition if you have it – just chop it and add it at the end for a bit of green. Bits of country ham are always a lovely addition as well.
And so, onto the recipes!
pint of oysters, shucked, in their liquor
4 strips of bacon, sliced into strips
1 onion, chopped
a few ribs of celery, chopped
a few cloves of garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 good sized potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
a few cups of corn
heavy cream, half and half or whole milk
salt, pepper, cayenne, old bay
Add about a cup of water or more to the oysters and refrigerate while assembling your other ingredients.
In stock pot, brown bacon pieces over medium to low heat. Remove the bacon and set aside. Drain off most of the fat, keeping some in the pot. Add a few tablespoons of butter and melt it, combining it with the bacon fat. Add onion and sprinkle some salt over it, browning the onion slowly. After a few minutes, add celery and garlic, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper and continue to stir occasionally, while sauteing over a low heat. Occasionally add a pinch of salt to the mixture. While this is cooking, drain the water from the oysters and set aside.
When the onions, celery and peppers are soft, add the potatoes and reserved oyster liquid as well as chicken stock to cover. Add salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer over a medium heat until the potatoes being to soften. Add the corn (frozen is fine) and continue to simmer until the potatoes are tender. (You can’t really overcook potatoes – at worst, they will fall apart and thicken your soup, but you can under cook them, so when in doubt, simmer it a few more minutes.) Add the bacon, cayenne and/or old bay, oysters and cream. Adjust the liquid until it is as desired with either stock or cream. Simmer until the edges of the oysters begin to curl up – that means they are cooked.
Serve hot with fresh baked bread.
(Adapted from Bread on Bread‘s French Style Bread)
1½ packages active dry yeast (a scant 3 1/2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups warm water (100° – 115° degrees, approximately)
1 tablespoon salt
5 cups flour ( all purpose or bread/spelt/whole wheat)
3 tablespoons yellow corn meal (optional)
Combine the yeast with sugar and warm water in a large bowl and allow to proof. Mix the salt with the flour and add to the yeast mixture, a cup at a time, until you have a stiff dough. Remove to a lightly floured board and knead until no longer sticky, about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary. (I will knead in the bowl in order to avoid cleaning counter space – it works just as well.) Place in a greased bowl and turn to coat the surface with oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Punch down the dough and let it rise another half hour to hour. Punch it down again and turn it out on a floured board and shape into two long, French bread-style loaves. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with the cornmeal but not buttered. (I will use parchment paper or just place it on a baking sheet). Place in a cold oven, set the temperature at 400°, turning the loaves after 15 minutes, baking for a total of 30-35 minutes or until well browned and hollow sounding when the tops are rapped. Let cool about 5 minutes or more before slicing. Makes 2 long loaves
If you’d like to do the egg wash just before baking brush bread with 1 tablespoon egg white, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water.