Oyster Stew

4.90 from 19 votes
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Winter is oyster time, and this recipe for a Southern-style oyster stew is a simple, brothy, creamy soup that highlights fresh oysters. Oyster stew is a tradition both in the South and, surprisingly, the Midwest.

A bowl of oyster stew in the winter sunlight.

The best oyster stew is made from fresh oysters, in the shell. Use them if you can, and you should be able to get them, because winter is oyster season everywhere. The whole only eating oysters in a month with an “R” is partially true; they are fattest (and safest) then.

If you can’t or don’t want to deal with whole oysters, you can still make oyster stew with shucked oysters.

I got a bunch of oysters from my friends over at Admiral Shellfish Company in Alabama, who raise oysters in an area that can get incredibly saline, which makes for a saltier, tastier oyster. There had been a drought there lately, so the oysters were especially nice.

They’re little, and I had to eat a few on the halfshell. But I’ll be honest: I don’t love shucking oysters, especially for oyster stew, where you need lots of them. There are alternate methods, however.

Shuck Oysters Easily

Shucking oysters is an art, one some people are very good at. I am not. I’m better at shucking clams, which is what I grew up with. So I use either heat or cold to do the work for me.

The cold method is as simple as freezing the whole oysters, then thawing them in a bowl in the fridge. They will die in the freezer, and partially open. Shucking them once they’ve thawed overnight is easy. You can wait up to two, maybe three days before cooking these oysters.

The heat method is basically baking your oysters. Preheat the oven to 400°F and set the oysters, deep side down, on a rack set over a baking sheet. Most types of oysters have a thin, flat side, the top, and a deeper cup side, the bottom.

Heat the oysters until most have opened, which should only take maybe 10 minutes tops. Keep an eye on them.

In this case, you will want to add the oysters to your oyster stew in the last 5 minutes or so, since they’ll be mostly cooked already.

Strain the Liquor for Oyster Stew

Regardless of whether you use pre-shucked oysters, which come in their liquor, or if you shuck them yourself or use one of the easier methods above, you will want to catch all the juice that comes out of them.

Alas, grit happens. The shells are brittle, they can be dirty, etc. I highly recommend that you strain your oyster liquor through a strainer that has a paper towel set inside. Strain into a clean bowl.

This oyster liquor is the essence of oyster stew.

Oyster Stew Not a Stew

Yes, that’s right: Technically speaking, oyster stew is a soup, not a stew, in that the broth really is the star. Thus all the effort to getting that liquor.

In a pinch, you can use store-bought clam juice or homemade fish stock instead of oyster liquor, but your oyster stew will not be as good.

The rest is crazy easy: Onions, butter, an herb, cream, black or white pepper. That’s it in a traditional oyster stew.

It bears some resemblence to my family’s clam chowder, except that this is even lighter, with no potato or pork product. You could, if you want, use bacon and bacon fat instead of butter, and add peeled, diced potatoes to your oyster stew, but that’s not what I do.

I have seen Charleston versions of this stew with rice grits cooked long, which thickens the stew a little like a classic Massachusetts chowder.

So if you want your oyster stew thicker, you can add maybe 1/2 cup of rice grits (or reduce regular rice to grits in a spice grinder) in with the onions, and let them stew in the oyster liquor until soft — don’t add the oysters themselves until the end though.

A bowl of oyster stew on a table.

Serving and Storing

Oyster stew comes together quickly, and is best made and then eaten. You can reheat leftovers very gently on the stove, but it just won’t be quite as nice.

I do not recommend freezing it, as the cream gets all weird, and the oysters’ texture suffers.

Generally speaking, oyster stew is served as a first course in a larger meal, usually Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. It’s a light opener to many more dishes.

If you are serving oyster stew solo, as a meal, I’d add lots of oyster crackers and/or bread.

If you liked this recipe, please leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating and a comment below; I’d love to hear how everything went. If you’re on Instagram, share a picture and tag me at huntgathercook.

A bowl of oyster stew in the winter sunlight.
4.90 from 19 votes

Oyster Stew

This is a very simple oyster stew, and each ingredient matters. Buy the best you can afford and you will notice the difference.
Course: Appetizer, lunch, Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: American, Southern
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 3 dozen whole oysters, or pre-shucked
  • 3 tablespoons good unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup finely minced shallot or yellow onion
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon Zatarian's liquid crab boil (optional)
  • black or white pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup minced chives
  • Oyster crackers (optional)

Instructions 

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Set the oysters on a cooling rack set on a baking sheet. Heat the butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Roast the oysters and cook the onions in the butter slowly. It important to cook the onions slowly and gently so they soften fully, but do not brown. You might want to cover the pot and cook them on low heat while you shuck the oysters.
  • If you are using pre-shucked oysters, or you just shuck raw oysters normally, just make sure the onions cook slow and at least 10 minutes, up to 20. Slow and low is the key here. Salt them as they cook.
  • While this is happening, strain the oyster liquor through a sieve with a paper towel set inside. Save this liquor, as it's the essence of the stew.
  • When the oysters and onions are ready, add the oysters and the liquor and the cream to the pot. You might need maybe a cup or two of water to fill things out, or you can add in extra oyster liquor, clam juice or fish stock here.
  • Season the stew with the pepper and the crab boil or a pinch of cayenne. Let this simmer 5 minutes, then stir in the chives and serve. Oyster crackers are a traditional garnish, and I highly recommend them if this is your main meal.

Notes

I love what the liquid crab boil brings to this stew, but it’s not easy to find outside the South. Use a pinch of cayenne or Cajun seasoning instead if you can’t get it. 

Nutrition

Calories: 133kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 38mg | Sodium: 9mg | Potassium: 92mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 540IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 24mg | Iron: 0.3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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16 Comments

  1. I made this for Christmas Eve lunch. It was delicious. Only comment is you do not provide any measurements for the liquid other than the cream. I had to do some guessing & I guessed right. Crab boil was a good add!

  2. My father would make this at Chistmas every year. He learned it from his Norweigan father. Used canned oysters and it was a very simple dish. They lived up near Crookston, MN. Love everything you do. Thank You.

  3. Hank I just discovered your website and absolutely love it. I can tell you are passionate about this and appreciate sharing. Thanks
    Very good recipie for the oyster stew. Simple works best with the oyster I’ve found, especially if you enjoy the magical taste of a really good oyster. I grew up on Chesapeake Bay and have harvested my own oysters for over 60 years. Oyster stews have been handed down for generations in my family. The best tip I can give people when it comes to making it is as follows. Warm all ingredients except the shucked oysters to just shy of boiling (include the liquor). Dump the raw oysters in the broth, stir gently for half a minute and serve immediately. The oysters will almost melt in your mouth. Most oyster stew recipies and restaurants overcook the oysters. They should never be chewy or worse tough and dry.

  4. I like celery in mine ! Good recipe I must say one thing the months with r is a bad rule the oysters are best when the water is cold September and October can be as hot as June in Mississippi so harvest time is December January February maybe March but April is usually to warm

  5. Hello Hank, I will give his receipt a try this xmas, I’m heading to Charleston this weekend and plan to get good batch of finger oysters.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Will make this from your recipe for a New Year’s Eve party with friends. I have a big cast iron pot just crying for this chance!!!! Thank you for your teaching.

  7. Will make this from your recipe for a New Year’s Eve party with friends. I have a big cast iron pot just crying for this chance!!!! Thank you for your teaching.

  8. Excellent recipe and tips Hank. I’m from Maryland and oyster stew is a staple. I make it all the time. There’s so many regional variations, well, let’s say in some parts using cream over milk or vice versa is fighting words. But let me comment on your point about using unshucked oysters. I totally, completely and wholeheartedly agree. Now, I’ve probably made more oyster stew in my life with shucked oysters than I have with unshucked oysters. But it’s not the same. Pre-shucked oysters are washed, then jarred with some water. By the time the oysters get to your kitchen, there’s plenty of liquor built up, but it’s not the same as a freshly shucked oyster, with its own liquor. I happen to be fairly proficient at oyster shucking (not so much clams) so for me it’s less of an issue, but I like your tips on freezing or roasting. But regardless, one needs to put forth the effort to buy and shuck a couple dozen oysters, and strain the liquor exactly as you say. However, when I do that, I always, always am struck by how much better it is. The essence of an oyster in a pot. Worth the effort. I’ll make some soon. PS There’s a ton of videos out there on shucking oysters. I believe the hinge method with a short, stout, pointed knife is the easiest. Wish I could say the same for clams.

  9. Will try this Christmas Eve!

    Must share that my grandson, Jimmy, who turned 12 in October, just took his first deer yesterday around 4:00 pm (An eleven-pointer) with his own rifle in the woods behind his home in Tennessee. Venison sausage for breakfast Christmas Day!
    Proud Nana

  10. Am I missing something? Why are we preheating the oven to 400. I don’t see where the oven is used in this recipe??

  11. My Czech grandma served oyster stew every Christmas Eve, but I’m fairly certain that she used smoked, canned oysters. It wasn’t terrible, but it was an acquired taste. I haven’t eaten oyster stew since she passed away. I’ll be bringing back this tradition and will use your recipe with fresh oysters. Thank you for the posting and recipe!

  12. Hank,

    Thanks for the recipe. I have made my Oyster Stew the same way for the last 56 years – Southeast Florida style. Time to try something new.

    On the list for the weekend.

    Tad

  13. I’ve been making oyster stew for my family for Christmas Eve for years, as well as throughout the Fall and Winter here in CT as I enjoy harvesting my own oysters. You mentioned it has roots in the South and Midwest. I’ve been told that it was also historically popular in upper inland New England as oysters were shipped by rail and back then was an inexpensive protein. Of course they already had quality cream.