“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
The weather has turned cold here at the farm. My two dozen Brunswick Heads oysters freshly shucked on their half shell (from Noel at the Mullumbimby Farmers Markets) suddenly seemed unappealing, given the weather. All I wanted was soup. Solution? A creamy oyster chowder, brimful of flavour and warming to the belly.
This recipe can be made with freshly shucked or bottled oysters. It will make two hearty serves, or four smaller serves as a starter. The chowder can easily be made gluten-free by choosing an appropriate gluten-free plain flour, and dairy-free by substituting soy or rice milk, using a butter substitute and omitting the small amount of cheese.
2 dozen fresh oysters and their liquor or the equivalent in fresh bottled oysters and liquid, 1 small onion, 1 large rib of celery, 2 large rashers of bacon or 1/2 cup of diced smoked ham, 2 tablespoons of butter, 2 tablespoons plain flour (or your favourite gluten-free flour) 3 cups of milk or your favourite milk substitute, 1/2 cup of fresh peas or corn, 1 medium potato – washed, 1 tablespoon of dry sherry or dry white wine, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper.
Note: This is a forgiving recipe. Feel free to pad it out with a few more garden vegetables, a little extra butter, flour and milk and a dash more cheese. It’s also fine to add a little more bacon or ham. That won’t overpower the oysters.
Finely chop the onion and parsley. Dice the celery, potato and bacon or ham. Prepare the peas or corn. We are blessed with a bumper crop of peas this year, so I shelled a few handfuls (and ate quite a few too!). Corn straight off the cob is also a delicious addition to this soup.
Place the butter, celery, onion and bacon or ham in the bottom of a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Stir well until butter melts and the onion becomes translucent and fragrant.
Dump in the flour and stir until combined and thickened. Reduce heat (or temporarily remove from heat) and add milk a little at a time, stirring well to avoid lumps. When all the milk is added and the mixture is smooth, return to medium heat, and dump in the potato, peas or corn.
Cook for five minutes or until potato is soft. Now add the oysters and their liquor, the cheese, sherry or wine, parsley and the smoked paprika. Cook for a further five minutes.
Add a dash of Tabasco sauce if you like it spicy, and adjust the seasoning by adding salt and pepper to your taste. I find this recipe tastes best with a generous pinch of salt!
Serve in deep bowls with hot buttered toast.