Chesapeake Bay Oyster Stew

Chef Matt Rollins, of Hunters Tavern at The Tidewater Inn in Easton, Maryland, is a two-time winner of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s “Best Oyster Stew” competition, and clearly an oyster artisan. This recipe is full of local flavors that pay homage to the delicious Chesapeake oysters at the heart of the dish. Worth the extra time and love!

By / Photography By Jay Fleming | December 14, 2017

Ingredients

Oyster Stew Base
  • Oil, as needed
  • 5 shallots, sliced
  • 1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ bunch thyme
  • 3 cups chardonnay
  • 1 gallon stock, chicken, vegetable, or even seafood
  • 1 fennel, small, sliced
  • Corn cobs, mushroom trimmings, vegetable scraps, herb stems
  • 3 quarts heavy cream
To Complete Oyster Stew
  • ¼ cup bacon fat
  • 1 white onion, small dice
  • 2 leeks, small diced, rinsed
  • ½ bunch celery, small dice
  • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed, sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups sherry cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon crab base (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon seafood base (optional)
  • ½ tablespoon onion powder
  • ½ tablespoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 cup smoked ham, small dice
  • 4 corn cobs, kernels cut off
  • 12 slices bacon, thick sliced, cooked and chopped
  • ½ bunch parsley leaves, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon oregano leaves, chopped
  • ¼ tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon lemon juice
  • Arrowroot (slurry)
  • Oysters, 5-8 per serving

Preparation

First, make the base of the soup. In a large stock pot, add a little oil, and toss in the sliced shallots. Begin to sweat the shallots for a few minutes, adding in the sliced mushrooms, and then the chopped garlic in three to five minute intervals. When the vegetables begin to cook down, add in the whole thyme, and stir to release the fragrance from the thyme. Slowly pour in the chardonnay wine and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Allow the wine to reduce to almost dry.

At this point, pour in the stock. Bring the liquid to a simmer and allow to reduce by half. You can add the sliced fennel and any of your vegetable trimmings to the stock pot as it will add extra flavor. I always prep ahead for the stew and put in the herb stems, vegetable scraps, and especially the corn cobs, as this will give a hint of fresh corn in the stew. Once reduced, pour in the heavy cream. Bring back to a simmer and allow to reduce by one third. After the base of the stew has reduced, strain the broth from all of the contents, reserving the broth, but discarding the scraps.

Now, to complete the stew, in a large stock pot, heat up the bacon fat. When you have cooked your bacon, reserve the fat for this process. If you need more fat, you can always use a little oil or butter. Add in the diced white onion, leeks, and celery and begin to sweat the vegetables. Continue to sweat for five minutes or so and add in the sliced shiitake mushrooms, and then the minced garlic a few minutes later. Let the aromas bloom. Slowly pour in the sherry and deglaze the bottom of the pan, working up any flavor fond that may have developed. Reduce until the sherry is almost dry.

Before the sherry has fully reduced, stir in the onion powder, garlic powder, old bay, cayenne, Worcestershire, and liquid smoke and let the flavors come out. I do choose to add in a little crab and seafood base at this time to round out the flavors, but is not needed if it is hard to find. Slowly pour your reserved broth into the stock pot and bring to a simmer, again, working the bottom in case anything had stuck and to prevent burning bits later.

Once to a simmer, allow to cook for ten minutes. Put in the corn kernels, chopped ham and bacon, followed by the finely chopped, thyme, oregano, and parsley. Bring back to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Add in the lemon juice, which will compliment oysters and help cut through the creamy flavor of the stew. This is the time to add anything extra if you would like. A little more liquid smoke for a more of a smoky flavor, or cayenne for more heat.

Once at a simmer, create a slurry with the arrowroot and cold water. Add enough cold water to the arrowroot to create a heavy cream consistency. Pour into the stew to thicken it. You can control how thick you would like it, the more slurry the thicker the soup. If it goes too thick, you can fix this by adding a little stock. I use a slurry to create a gluten free oyster stew.

You can hold it for dinner, or chill the stew for later. If you plan to use the stew right away, stir in some raw oysters and simmer for approximately five minutes or so, just until the oysters curl. You can shuck your own oysters or buy them already shucked and add as many as you want. I recommend 5-8 per bowl of oyster stew.

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Ingredients

Oyster Stew Base
  • Oil, as needed
  • 5 shallots, sliced
  • 1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ bunch thyme
  • 3 cups chardonnay
  • 1 gallon stock, chicken, vegetable, or even seafood
  • 1 fennel, small, sliced
  • Corn cobs, mushroom trimmings, vegetable scraps, herb stems
  • 3 quarts heavy cream
To Complete Oyster Stew
  • ¼ cup bacon fat
  • 1 white onion, small dice
  • 2 leeks, small diced, rinsed
  • ½ bunch celery, small dice
  • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed, sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups sherry cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon crab base (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon seafood base (optional)
  • ½ tablespoon onion powder
  • ½ tablespoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 cup smoked ham, small dice
  • 4 corn cobs, kernels cut off
  • 12 slices bacon, thick sliced, cooked and chopped
  • ½ bunch parsley leaves, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon oregano leaves, chopped
  • ¼ tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon lemon juice
  • Arrowroot (slurry)
  • Oysters, 5-8 per serving
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