Creamy Oyster Stew and an Onion Tart

I have a problem with oysters. Maybe I become just a little crazed. I’m kind of like “if you give a mouse a cookie”, except we could rewrite the book entitled “if you give a Sheila an oyster”. It’s sort of like when someone is on a crash diet, say they strictly swear off chocolate, and upon one teeny bite of the sweet, off-limits treat, turns into a hulk-crazed-chocolate-fiend. So, I sort of forgot oysters were available until recently, and have not been able to stop ever since. Tuesday: a dozen raw. Friday: oyster stew at a diner, plus 4 raw later. Yesterday: homemade oyster stew, ate all the oysters from the broth as if they were the candy goodies in a pint of ice cream; a 6 year old eating all the marshmallows in a bowl of Lucky Charm’s.

Oysters: 4

Sheila: 0

This creamy oyster stew recipe is from Splendid Table, Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s lovely NPR food show. The highlight of course is when customers call in with 5 random ingredients they have in their kitchen, and she has to come up with a delicious dish they could realistically make with them. So fun.

The great thing about this recipe is it is so simple. No stock, or really any behind the scenes prep required. A wonderful, creamy broth and plump oysters. For a normal person, that is someone who doesn’t compulsively eat oysters unlike myself, this recipe will offer plenty of oysters. Now on the other hand, if you are like me, you may want to reduce the amount of liquid you add, OR make a delicious seafood chowder with the leftover broth (more on that after). My problem also could be that I ate it without the recommended oyster crackers and was searching for more “stuff” in my stew. (Why is there always canola oil & other fillers in oyster crackers…and everything else?) Feel free to add potatoes if desired.

Creamy Oyster Stew

  • 1 pint shucked oysters in their liquid
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 1 small garlic clove minced
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 to 3 drops Tabasco sauce, or to taste


1. Lift the oysters out of their liquid, checking for bits of shell and sand. Place the oysters in a fine strainer to remove any sand and shell, keeping the liquid. Chill the oysters and liquid separately.

2. In a 3 to 4-quart saucepan melt the butter over medium heat, stir in the shallots and saute a couple minutes until they transparent. Add the minced garlic and season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Cook 30 seconds. Stir in the milk, cream, oyster liquid and Tabasco, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 2 minutes at a gentle bubble. Make sure it doesn’t boil.

3. Turn the heat down so the liquid barely bubbles, then gently add the oysters. Only cook them for a minute or until their edges start to curl, so they’ll be nice and tender and plump!

For a full meal, it’s very enjoyable with a simple salad of broccoli rabe, carrot ribbons, watermelon radish and golden raisins with vinaigrette, and the flakiest, most deliciously buttery onion tart (thanks to the wonder that is frozen puff pastry).

Seafood Chowder, using the leftover broth

This is more of an idea & inspiration than a recipe. Martha Stewart’s recipe helped guide me. I really love finding some delicious to do with random leftovers. It presents a challenge that makes me so happy to beat! Unfortunately, chowder not pictured here, as my camera is a slave to natural night, and it’s dark as I write this.

  • 3 pints creamy oyster stew broth
  • just under a pound of hake, cut into chunks
  • about a quarter pound of scallops, cut into small pieces (smaller than the hake)
  • one small onion, diced
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • about half a bunch of curly kale, chard, or any other mild greens (not anything too bitter)
  • 1/8 pound salt pork, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a few sprigs thyme
  • pinch cayenne

1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the diced salt pork and let it cook for about 10 minutes, then drain the water and reserve the salt pork.

2. In a 6-quart heavy pot, heat the olive oil, then add the salt pork and cook for 5 minutes. Add the celery and onions and cook until softened.

3. Add about 4 cups of water, the bay leaves and thyme, and bring to a simmer. While waiting for that to simmer, pour the creamy oyster broth into a small pot and bring that also to a simmer.

4. Once the large pot (with the veggies, salt pork, etc) is simmering, add the hake and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the warmed creamy broth, along with the scallops, greens, and a pinch of cayenne. Let the scallops cook for a couple minutes, although it won’t take long. Serve hot and enjoy!

In preparation for my California trip, I’m trying to absorb as much about the SF/Berkeley food scene as possible, while also working to improve my cooking skills. I’ve taken out a bunch of cookbooks recently, one of them being The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers. A truly impressive book, and a restaurant I would love to visit while in the area. For how much I love to cook, I find it surprising that I don’t really have many “go to” recipes for entertaining, but now, after trying her recipe for onion tart, that makes at least one!

As I’m not much of a baker, I haven’t tackled making homemade puff pastry, so have omitted that part of the recipe. You can buy incredibly good quality frozen puff pastry at many specialty food stores. Look for the “Dufour” brand.

Zuni Cafe’s Onion Tart

  • One 14oz package puff pastry (thawed in refrigerator 2-3 hours)
  • 3 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil or butter
  • roughly 3 cups sliced yellow onions
  • sea salt, to taste
  • a few garlic cloves, minced (optional; you could also use shallots instead)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a sprig of fresh thyme

If you are using store-bought puff pastry, it will already be in flat sheets, allowing you to easily cut them into 4 equal squares. After cutting them, roll each square (lightly floured) until barely 1/8 inch thick. Each square (or maybe rectangle) should be about 7-8 inches across. I like that it doesn’t matter if they’re perfectly shaped or not; they’ll still deliciously bake. I kind of like the tarts rustic anyway. Place each square of dough onto its own 8-9 inch piece of parchment paper, stack, and keep in the refrigerator while working on the rest of the recipe.

Warm the olive oil or butter in a 12-inch skillet, then add the sliced onions and a couple generous pinches of salt. Let them cook for a few minutes until some onions begin to color. Once the coloring begins, stir, then cook undisturbed for a few minutes so another layer can color. Walk away if you have to! So tempting to stir, but don’t do it right away! After a few minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic or shallots if using, as well as the bay leaf and thyme. Give everything about 15 minutes, or until the onions are golden and tender, but have not softened too much. It’ll get nice and fragrant.

Judy’s great tip: if, at any point, it seems like the onions may dry out, reduce the heat a little more and put a cover on the skillet to trap the remaining moisture.

Once they’re done, remove the thyme and bay leaf and taste the onions for salt, correct if needed.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take the dough out of the fridge and give it a few minutes to come back to room temperature while the oven heats up, just a couple minutes. Gently fold the edges over, taking care to not let them crack. Place each piece of dough with its parchment paper onto baking sheets, and add roughly 4-5 tablespoons of the onion mixture onto each piece.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown, and ridiculously tempting to burn your mouth on. Can’t wait to bring this to my next gathering! If bringing it to a friend’s or family’s house, think I’d only bake it for 15 minutes at home, then pop it into their oven for 5 minutes to serve warm. Would also be really delicious with a raspberry & jalapeño jam, among so many other possible variations!

eat well, live happy.

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