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. 🌊

Pacific Northwest Clam Chowder

For maximum theme, we recommend savory clams, a painfully hoppy IPA, and parsnips with the dirt of the Skagit Valley still clinging to them.

A few notes on chowder technique:

This recipe calls for half a bottle of beer. Do not go rogue and add more! (Too much beer will curdle the milk, so just drink the remainder.)

Once you add the milk, be careful to keep it from coming to a full boil because that will also cause curdling.


Serves 6
Start to finish: 1 to 1 1/2 hours

1/2 cup butter
6 stalks celery, diced small

3 yellow onions (medium-large), diced small
6 slices thick-cut bacon or 6 ounces slab bacon, diced small
1 large Yukon Gold potato, diced small
2 large parsnips, diced small
1/2 cup rice flour or all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 cups milk, ideally 2% fat
4 pounds savory clams
3/4 cup west coast IPA
1/4 cup tarragon, minced
1/2 cup parsley, minced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat, add the butter, celery, onion and bacon and sweat until the onion is translucent and the bacon is glossy, about 8-10 minutes. (You don’t want any kind of browning or crispness here – soft translucency is the goal.) 

Add the potatoes, parsnips, flour and salt and stir with a spatula until everything is evenly coated in flour. Add the milk and simmer until the potatoes and parsnips are very tender, about 25-30 minutes. (Remember: no boiling!) Stir frequently, scraping the bottom to prevent sticking.

In a separate pot over high heat, add the beer and the clams and cook, covered, until the clams open, 4-5 minutes. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and drain, reserving the liquid. Fish the clam meat out of the shells and contribute the shells to your local midden.

When the potatoes are done, add the clams, the clam/beer broth (do not pour the last of the broth – any grit will have settled here), and the tarragon and parsley. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Serve with lots of freshly ground black pepper. 🏔️

Oyster Rancher’s Sandwich

Sometimes the ranch is in your mind.


Serves 1 to ∞
Start to finish: Time is a construct

8-12 smoked oysters
1 cup mayo
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

2 teaspoons horseradish

Roast beef or sliced steak
Tomato, sliced and sprinkled with salt
Iceberg lettuce
Your favorite sandwich bread (toasted or untoasted, buttered or plain)


In a food processor, blend the smoked oysters, mayo, garlic, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco until smooth.

Slather the inside of both pieces of bread with smoked oyster mayo and assemble at will.

You’ll have lots of smoked oyster mayo for your reserves. Try it on fries. 🥔