04 January 2012

but they have something to say

Christmas was lovely. My sister is a wonderful cook, and I received some excellent gifts. But what I will remember most about this holiday season is the oysters.

Oyster shells

One of Maman's friends drove up from North Carolina on Boxing Day with a large box of oysters for us. And by 'large box' I mean about six dozen of the fattest, juiciest, muddiest oysters I have seen in a long time.


A generous -- extravagant -- and perishable gift. I spent most of the week after Christmas scrubbing and shucking oysters.

We roasted some, fried some, and made soup out of some others.

Oyster soup as made by me is a simple thing, but takes several 10-minute increments to make. It is milk-based and flour-thickened, and when you are dealing with anything based on a roux, it is absolutely essential -- and I mean that, essential -- that you cook the flour. Otherwise you get oyster-flavoured library paste, and that's just not good eats.

2 tbs butter
1 medium onion
1 small clove garlic
1 stalk celery, with leaves
1 carrot
2 tsp sherry vinegar
3 tbs flour
3 cups liquid, composed of the oyster liquor and as much whole milk as needed to make up the rest of the volume
salt and white pepper
1 dozen oysters

Drain the oysters and reserve the liquor.

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a one-quart saucepan. Chop the onion and add to the butter. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is just translucent. Mince the garlic clove and add to the onion.

Slice the celery thinly and add to the pan. Chop the carrot, and add to the rest of the vegetables. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onion should have turned pale gold and the celery should be translucent. Add the vinegar, let it bubble up, then stir to combine with vegetables and butter.

Now add the flour, a tablespoonful at a time, and cook another 10 minutes, stirring constantly to eliminate any lumps. When the flour has turned gold, whisk in one cup of the liquid and continue whisking gently until the flour has absorbed all the liquid and there are no lumps. This will take about 7 to 10 minutes.

Add another cup of liquid, whisk, and simmer for 10 minutes. Repeat with the last cup of liquid.  Keep simmering.

At this point, if you have an immersion blender and feel so inclined, you may puree the soup. This is not strictly necessary, so don't feel obligated. At this point also the soup can be put on the back of the stove over low heat and held until you're ready to serve. Stir it occasionally while it waits.

A few minutes before you're ready to serve the soup turn the heat back up to medium. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Slide the oysters into the pot and stir gently just until the edges of the oysters begin to curl. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve at once with plenty of oyster crackers. Float a spoonful of sherry on top if you like it.

This makes enough for two as a main course or four as a starter.

Richard Howard
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