Our new food columnist for 2013, Alex Hitz, puts a distinctively gourmet spin on down-home dishes. Here, he shares an elegant and festive oyster stew recipe. And don't forget to check out his new cookbook, My Beverly Hills Kitchen.
If there's any month that needs to include a bit of celebration, it's February. Don't let the winter gloom get you down. Here's an easy, elegant, festive dish that's simple to prepare, yet bursting with incredible flavor — and it takes no more than 20 minutes from start to finish. Less, really, because most of that time is just spent simmering it to concentrate the flavors. It's got "Romantic Dinner for Two" written all over it. (Not to mention, of course, that it's actually an aphrodisiac!)
To celebrate, pour a glass of Champagne, set the table, and make this stew (then, finish with some of my chocolate mousse that I'm sure you already made yesterday).
Few things are as soul-satisfying as soup. If you want to go to the trouble, you can serve this stew to start and roast a perfect tenderloin of beef as your main course (yes, it's in my book, too), but you probably don't need it because I think you'll be happy — and satisfied — with the stew in the main role. It's the perfect way to wow your whomever and was always a favorite at the Patio by the River, a restaurant in Atlanta I co-owned years ago.
I'd be ashamed of myself if I didn't tell you a few secrets to help make it just right.
In this recipe, as in every single other one of mine, please always use salted butter. Unsalted butter doesn't really help control the salt in a dish. And in my experience, the result inevitably ends up tasteless.
Always use fine table salt. It takes so much more of the coarse stuff to get any salt flavor at all — and sometimes it's so coarse you could break a tooth on it.
There's no substitute for heavy cream, so don't even try.
And now, for the oysters. You can shuck your own if you want to, but I don't. And never have. I buy already-shucked pints of medium-size Gulf oysters if I'm in the South, or medium-size Pacific Coast oysters if I'm out West. I find the medium ones have the most flavor. They are available at many grocery stores during months with the letter "r" in their names. The liquor (oyster juice from the pint) is a very important ingredient here, so don't pour it down the drain. Oysters should never have any odor other than just a slight whiff of seawater. If they do, please throw them away immediately. That goes for any other shellfish or fish, too.
Serves 6 to 8
3 tablespoons salted butter
2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced, including both green and white parts
2 small cloves garlic, minced
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup bourbon (use a good one...don't skimp!)
1 cup very rich chicken stock
1¾ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 pints fresh raw medium oysters, plus 1½ cups of their drained liquor
1. In a medium-size stockpot over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming has subsided, add the onions and garlic and sauté for three to four minutes until they begin to be translucent.
2. Add the milk, cream, bourbon, chicken stock, salt, white pepper, and oyster liquor. Bring this mixture to a boil for 10 minutes.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and add the oysters. They should "steep" in the hot stock for about three minutes, until they are heated through fully and just begin to curl at the edges. Do not overcook them. Serve immediately.
Photos by John Kernick