A creamy, rich stew with oysters, potatoes and optional sherry, Oyster Chowder is a holiday classic that’s a perfect cold weather soup.
Today they say that, due to seafood farming and refrigeration, the old adage about eating oysters in “r” months, no longer holds. Yet this history may be part of the reason that Oyster Chowder became popular as a holiday dish.
Now from my perspective, any type of seafood soup is good any time of the year. But there is something special about creamy, warming Oyster Chowder that makes it perfect in winter. And especially in the holiday months!
What is Oyster Chowder or Stew?
Per Wikipedia, “Oyster stew is a stew made with oysters. In New England cuisine, oyster stew is often associated with Thanksgiving. In Southern United States cuisine, oyster stew is often prepared on Christmas Eve. The basic southern oyster stew is made with milk and cream.”
And while this recipe may not be quite as thick as some oyster stews, it is certainly as creamy and special!
Why You’ll Love This!
Tasty. With briny oysters, rich cream (okay half & half) and savory thyme, this is a tasty and unique soup.
Versatile. Oyster Chowder can work as a special first course soup or also as a hearty and tasty main dish soup.
Special. Seafood is always special, so this soup is perfect for a holiday or company dinner. Or even when you want a special treat, just for you!
What You’ll Need
- Bacon. This adds flavor and richness
- Celery, carrots, onion. These are chopped finely to create a more flavorful soup base.
- Garlic, thyme. These add flavor.
- Potato. This adds a hint of starch and makes the soup chowder-like.
- Seafood broth. This provides liquid for the soup and enhances the seafood flavor.
- Oysters. These make it oyster chowder!
- Half and half. This adds more liquid and creamy richness.
- No special tools required but a food processor will making chopping the vegetables much easier.
Step by Step Directions
Strain the oysters, reserving the liquid, then strain the liquid through cheesecloth. You can use it as part of your 3 cups of seafood stock or save (freeze) it for another use. Coarsely chop the oysters and reserve them.
In a food processor (or by hand), finely dice the celery, carrots, and onions.
In a medium large sauce pan, sautee the chopped bacon. When it is crisp, remove the bacon to another plate and reserve. Keep 1-2 Tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan and discard the rest (or save for another use).
Sautee the diced celery, carrots and onion in the bacon grease. Simmer until tender, but not caramelized (turn down the burner temperature if they start to turn golden), then add the minced garlic and thyme and cook for another minute.
Add the chopped potato and broth to the pan and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.
Add the half and half , chopped oysters and reserved bacon crumbles. Cook until hot but not boiling, and oysters are cooked through (they will start to curl at the edges).
How to Serve
Oyster Chowder works well as a special first course soup. And it’s also hearty enough to use as a main course, which is what we did.
For a main course, serve with a crusty bread and tasty salad for a perfect complete meal that’s still easy and special.
No matter how it’s served, crunchy croutons and a sprinkling of parsley are lovely topping this. And I love to serve the soup with a shot of sherry on the side. The lightly boozy flavor is a perfect complement to the chowder and makes it feel even more special.
While this chowder is made with oysters, it could be done with a variety of different seafoods for a tasty seafood chowder. You really wouldn’t need to do anything differently than switch out the seafood.
You might also turn this more stew-like by adding additional cubed vegetables like carrots and turnips. That would increase the nutrition even more, though it would likely dilute the seafood flavors.
More Holiday Side Dish Recipes:
- Beet Mashed Potatoes from The Spiffy Cookie
- Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes from Karen’s Kitchen Stories
- Root Vegetable Gratin from A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Vegetarian Stuffing from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
- Whiskey Glazed Carrots from Palatable Pastime
Refrigerate leftovers and use within a few days. Heat leftovers slowly on the stovetop or in the microwave stirring periodically so it doesn’t get too warm and possibly curdle.
Where can I find seafood broth?
There is seafood broth that you can buy in stores and you can also use bottled clam juice.
But I am always on the lookout for opportunities to make seafood broth that I can freeze until I need it. Here are some sources I’ve used or heard of:
- Whenever I use oysters in a dish that doesn’t use the liquor like my New Orleans Fried Oyster Salad, I strain the liquor and freeze it for later.
- I boil crab and shrimp shells when I have removed the meat for other purposes.
- I have known people who go to fishmongers for seafood scraps like leftover bones and use these for a homemade broth.
- Finally, there is a lobster bouillon in the Better Than Bouillon line. While I don’t usually use this alone, it’s perfect for enhancing a broth or soup where the seafood flavor is weak.
Tips & FAQs
To make the bacon more economical, I use bacon ends (or bacon uglies) when I am using chopped bacon like in this soup.
The recipe starts with a light mirepoix. The technique, from French cooking (with counterparts in other cuisines), starts with chopped carrot, onion and celery. These are cooked slowly, rather than caramelized to add rich flavor to dishes.
If you are shucking your own oysters, from an internet search, it looks like around 20 larger oysters will make a pint, though this will vary with size.
- 4 ounces bacon chopped
- 2 stalks celery about 1 cup after chopping
- 2 carrots medium, about 1 cup after chopping
- 1 onion medium
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ teapoon thyme
- 1 potato chopped
- 3 cups seafood broth
- 1-2 pints oysters. You want close to a pint of actual oysters. So if your bulk oysters are half liquid which I sometimes find, you may need a quart.
- 2 cups half and half
- Strain the oysters, reserving the liquid, then strain the liquid through cheesecloth. You can use it as part of your 3 cups of seafood stock or save (freeze) it for another use. You should have close to a pint of actual oysters, so if your bulk oysters are half liquid (which I have gotten from some vendors), you will need the second pint. Coarsely chop the drained oysters and reserve them.
- In a food processor (or by hand), finely dice the celery, carrots, and onions.
- In a medium large sauce pan, sautee the chopped bacon. When it is crisp, remove the bacon to another plate and reserve. Keep 1-2 Tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan and discard the rest (or save for another use).
- Sautee the diced celery, carrots and onion in the bacon grease. Simmer until tender, but not caramelized (turn down the burner temperature if they start to turn golden), then add the minced garlic and thyme and cook for another minute.
- Add the chopped potato and broth to the pan and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add the half and half , chopped oysters and reserved bacon crumbles. Cook until hot but not boiling, and oysters are cooked through (they will start to curl at the edges).
- Serve warm.
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