Oyster Stew a la Wixsom via Swan
-35 Oysters (20 steamed/shucked, 15 raw/shucked, water within the latter 15 strained and set aside)
-1 fennel, fat bit sliced and diced
-3 medium shallots (finely chopped)
-4 cloves of garlic (minced)
-10 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (or so), drawn and quartered to bite-sized pieces
-1 scallion (to be sauteed with the raw Oysters separately)
-1 stick of butter (or a bit more if you're feeling naughty)
-Salt/pepper to taste along the way
-Pinches of Cayenne to taste along the way
-Parsley, finely chopped (for garnish)
-1 QT of Half & Half (not heavy cream, this is for lightness)
Okay, so shucking oysters is a royal pain in the ass! I won't devote too much time to what's supposed to be the proper technique or the fact that you sometimes have to bend the rules a bit to get through the goddamned pile before midnight, and I won't say that was the reason why I steamed some of them beforehand to make the job easier, although the thought did cross my mind. The reason I did that was because my mother in law, Margo Wixsom, bought a boatload of them a couple of days earlier and we ended up with whatever she and a bunch of friends and family couldn't BBQ or eat raw on that first night, and she really wanted to make the stew with the rest of them after having had the dish at the Station Cafe at Point Reyes Station recently, so she called me to steam about half as she was heading to our place. I dutifully complied without knowing what was to come next. Turns out the cold she had kicked in a bit heavy so I took on the whole job of making the stew myself, purportedly as a salvage operation so all those wonderful oysters wouldn't go to waste. There was a period in between where I wasn't sure when she'd arrive so I started looking at online recipes for the stew. It was then that I realized that I should use some of the water from within the remaining oysters to strain and set aside to get that sea-salty deliciousness that you know and love about oysters. This was not as easy to do after steaming them, as the insides of the shells were pretty much dried out with the liquid below in the steamer tainted with all the dirt and crap from the outside of the shells. There were enough raw oysters left to get the good kind of water from within.
So...I had 20 steamed oysters chilling in the fridge, and another 15 raw, with the liquid separated out. Then Margo arrived and clued me in as to the rest of the game plan.
First, I took some butter (I just threw in a whole stick and said "fuck it" without asking exactly how much), and turned on a nice large sauteeing pan to medium low. Once the butter was melted I tossed in the garlic, followed by the shallots and fennel and made 'em sweat til they were kind of limp. I tossed in a bit of salt and pepper at this point before throwing in the potatoes, stirring them up a bit and covering the pan. With the potatoes in the fold, it was about 20 minutes or so of sauteeing time, with a check-in to stir each 5 minutes or thereabouts.
Meanwhile, at this point I thought it would be a good idea to cook the raw oysters a little bit to get them about par with the steamed ones from earlier. So I tossed in about two or three tablespoons of butter, one chopped scallion (aka green onion, without the really white part) and sauteed those for 5 minutes on low. I tossed in a pinch of cayenne to keep them honest. Then I set them aside until the potatoes and whatnot were done.
I then transferred the potatoes and whatnot from the pan to a pot, tossing in a full quart of half & half, warming that up (don't boil it or you'll be sorry, said my wife, Kiera, who stepped in as it started getting bubbly). Just as the potatoes/whatnot and the half and half was starting to feel like it was maybe halfway to the warmth I wanted it to be, I added the raw oyster sautee mixture, the strained water from the shells, and finally the steamed ones. I also added about six or seven grinds of fresh pepper and another pinch of cayenne. Five minutes later, it was ready to serve.
To garnish, I added the chopped parsley and a tiny pinch of cayenne for the finish. We didn't have oyster crackers, but Kiera had made some croutons from a baguette the other night so those got tossed in as well (her suggestion).
What I thought was going to be a salvage operation ended up eliciting the following comment from Margo: "This is better than the Station Cafe's!" I doubt that, but I'll go with it. I was skeptical about how it would turn out, especially after a day of watching Bowl games interspersed with beer and Kiera's world famous chili. I highly recommend topping off such a day with this stew, serving at about 10pm. Try and employ someone else to shuck the oysters if you can. If only I had "The Help...."