When I was a kid, one only bought oysters in months that had an ‘R’ in them.
Being raised in Indiana, we actually only bought oysters in two months of the ‘R’ months… NovembeR and DecembeR. Oysters were for celebrations.
In the time before Kroger and Marsh, there were independent markets along country roads. These were places you could walk to, where the owner/butcher/cashier knew everyone’s name.
Cole’s Market was our market. A bell hung on the door announcing your arrival. Wooden floors creaked as you walked through. Items were hung from the ceiling and stacked on every surface. There were exotic items like pungent salt-caked cod fillets and imported dry-aged sausages.
Mr. Cole had local foods throughout the year, too. Long before the Field-to-Table Movement, he sold potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, and apples all from the neighborhood.
Around the holidays, the oysters arrived and folks from all around the area would head to Cole’s for their fix. They were slurped up raw; made into creamy stews; wrapped in bacon and broiled; baked in casseroles; and folded into stuffings. People would call in orders and they would be labeled and packed in crushed ice for you when you arrived.
Cole’s Market was torn down many years ago, but even now it pains me to see the vacant lot. I still picture it there – smell its smells, the bells on the door ringing. Every time I drive, by I still get a hankering for Oysters.
This is a simple and elegant starter for any celebration. I love it during the chilly holiday season. Here in the Midwest we don’t have many oysters around so we wait until the winter months when the oysters are at their best for shipping to the Midwest. Serves 4.
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup celery, minced
- 1/2 cup leeks, minced, white and light green parts
- 1 quart half-and-half cream
- 2 (12 ounce) containers fresh shucked oysters, undrained
- 1 teaspoon Sweet Seasons Spice Blend or Chinese 5 Spice powder
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 4 slices buttered white toast
- 4 pieces butter for garnish, about 1 teaspoon each
- paprika, preferably smoked Spanish paprika if available
- chopped parsley for garnish
- Melt the butter in a ½ gallon sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, celery and leeks and cook until they are tender and translucent. Do not allow to brown or they will discolor the stew.
- Season with the spice mix, lemon zest, salt and pepper.
- Pour in half-and-half cream stir continuously. When the mixture is almost boiling, pour the oysters and their liquid into the pot.
- Stir continuously until the oysters curl at the ends. Do not overcook. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Place one piece of toast in each of the pre-warmed bowls, ladle over equal amounts in each bowl. Make sure you share the oysters!
- Place a piece of butter on top of each bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and a pinch of paprika. Serve straight away.
This recipe uses the Sweet Seasons Spice Blend.