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Nov 21, 2002 06:20 PM

oyster stew

  • e

this is perhaps the most righteous dish ever. i've been reading m.f.k. fisher's _consider the oyster_ and her descriptions of oyster stew had the most visceral effect on me. i bought a can of oysters (which she says will do just fine if you don't have fresh; not the smoked, btw) and made this:

about 3 cups milk
can of oysters
pat of butter

i heated up the milk with the oyster liquer, then added the oysters and turned down the heat, let them sit for maybe two minutes, turned off the heat, added butter, salt, and pepper, and ate it.

this is one of those things that is more than the sum of its parts. i felt then, and still feel, that it made my short list of "best food experiences."

it's very m.f.k. fisher; tres comme il faut. she'd say something like "with a good crust of honest bread, you really don't need anything else to make a satisfying supper." you get the feeling that to add anything to it or to serve anything else with it would be baroque, decadant, insulting. besides, you want to keep on eating it forever.

i wanted to pass this on because it seems like an ideal holiday dish; so, so, so easy to make, easy to understand, clean and elegant and honest, somewhat unusual nowadays, and unbelievably delicious.

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  1. So true. I like to add some diced potatoes, but nothing else. Glass of pinot gris, some bread. Heaven. I adore MFKF. Thanks for reminding me, I think I'll read a bit tonight.

    4 Replies
    1. re: suzannapilaf

      Where would we and all the best of today's food writers be without MFK Fisher having paved the way? In the early 70's I made it my mission to read everything she'd written that I could find. My favorites among her books are _With Bold Knife and Fork_ and _Sister Age_. What are your favorites?

      1. re: zora

        i was blown away by _how to cook a wolf_. it's absolutely poignant, to consider how much culinary opulence we take for granted now, to consider that eating goes on even during a war, even with meager rations of canned food.

        this idea has been discussed on these boards before, but i think food must not taste as good when it's all around us all the time. that's one thing i learn from mfk--that part of the pleasure of eating is sometimes not eating.

        1. re: zora

          I haven't read all of her work, but might now make it a winter project to do so. I think I first discovered her through the Time Life Cooking of Provincial France. Then I read the compilation The Art of Eating. One story in there comes back to me every time I eat a tangerine, or even see one! Do you remember her describing how she would lay the segments on the radiator to dry while she looked out the window at the French street below? When they were dry and papery on the outside she would eat them and enjoy the sharp little burst of juicy flavor, slowly savoring each in turn. I think it is one of the sexiest, most intimate pieces of writing I've ever come across. Certainly it changed the way I thought about food. I also love the memory I have of her house in Sonoma (I think) that I saw in a magazine once - one big room, all kitchen with a big dining table and comfy couches and lots of counter space and a desk and her books. Perfect!

          1. re: suzannapilaf

            yeah, that tangerine story is very vivid. i have to say, though, that, much as i love it, i always detect a slight whiff of the anorexic in that story.

            that's probably unfair of me. isn't it weird how women are with food and each other? there's a little rill of compulsiveness that i sense running through all her work, and it simultaneously disturbs me and makes me envious (as someone who errs more on the side of indulgence than control). i think "if i could be that controlled about food, then i'd be tall and blond and thin and poised like her and i'd marry, in succession, a poet and professor of literature who would take me to live in france and a painter who would live with me in a house on lake geneva and i would already have published two or three books and..."

            irrational? yes. but i do think mfk is compulsive about food, like we all are, and i love her.

      2. I think it sounds very good.

        1. r
          Ron Rosenbaum

          What you made was a traditional Chesapeake Bay style oyster stew. The only possible additions might be a shake of celery salt or Old Bay, and/or a few drops of Lea and Perrins or Tabasco. It is often enjoyed at Christmas time around Maryland and Virginia.

          If you're ever in Manhattan, don't miss out on the experience of having an oyster (or any other shellfish, or even a combination)stew or pan roast at The Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. Have a dozen or two on the half shell while you watch your stew being prepared right in front of you in one of their mini steam jacketed kettles. It takes them less than a minute to whip one up.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ron Rosenbaum

            I grew up on Chesapeake Bay and oyster stew was a Friday night staple. I seldon get to New York, but my dream is to go to the Grand Central Oyster Bar...someday, perhaps...
            We have great oysters here in No Calif...fix stew often, but you never see it in the restaurants. I don't think they know what it is. They sometimes add potatoes and onions and call it "chowder".

            1. re: Ron Rosenbaum

              I second the Oyster Bar at Grand Central.

              My annual birthday lunch, in FebRuary, is to sit at the bar, have a dozen oysters and an oyster pan roast.
              That is my idea of comfort food.

            2. Pretty much my favorite Cape Cod lunch, made with freshly opened (9 for me) Wellfleet oysters. Of course, always eaten with pilot crackers.

              Pat G.

              1. Oh, you're all making me want to run home and curl up with a bowl of oyster stew and one of my well-thumbed MFK Fisher's! The perfect way to spend a foggy Seattle afternoon, which we're having today.

                And please don't talk about Grand Central Oyster Bar and their superlative Pan Roasts...I was lucky enough to have my first Pan Roast on my 16th birthday, and have dined there any time I'm in New York. What a heavenly treat! Since one of the foodie mags published the recipe a few years ago, I can make it at home in Seattle, but it's only half of the experience. Sitting on one of their bar stools, watching it being concocted while sipping a glass of wine and slurping clams on the half eyes are misting over!

                1 Reply
                1. re: krissy

                  Would you share the recipe for the pan roast? My mouth is watering reading everyone's comments.