20th Century Oyster Stew

A recipe for the ages, or from the ages. The past isn’t even past. The future is now!

“Everything must be made as simple as possible, but not simpler,” said a physicist. Renowned oyster busybody Rowan Jacobsen enjoys this fireside with a rustic cider. Sherry would be lovely as well.

Despite the name, which is made up, I imagine this preparation predates the 20th century. Spirited corrections from the community of shellfish historians are welcome.

Serves 4
Start to finish: 15 minutes

1 pint shucked oysters, in their liquid
4 tablespoons butter
2 medium shallots, minced (optional and perhaps controversial)
4 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Oyster crackers
Hot sauce, to taste


With the gentlest possible touch, lift the oysters out of their liquid and check them for any stray bits of shell or grit. If any grit has settled to the bottom of the liquid, pour the clean part into a new container and discard the unwanted bottom layer.

In a large saucepan or small dutch oven, melt the butter. When the foam subsides, add the shallots along with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, then sweat the shallots until they’re soft and translucent (you do not want to caramelize them – pale is the goal). Add the milk, cream and oyster liquid and bring to a bare simmer.

Add the oysters and continue simmering just until their edges ruffle. Ladle into the oldest-fashioned soup plates you can find and serve immediately with oyster crackers, hot sauce, and salt and pepper for the table. 🌊