To me, the oyster is like an avocado in one important respect: I fail to see how you could possibly improve upon it in it’s natural state. Open, eat. Perfect. But there’s been a lot of oyster related stuff happening in my life lately: I just finished The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky, (a fantastic read if you have an interest in both food history and the history of New York City) I’ve recently picked up some part-time hours at a restaurant which is known for it’s bivalves, and most recently I’ve been plowing through How to Cook a Rogue Elephant, a gastrologue by Peter Van Rensselaer Livingston, which is both entertaining and highly informative about the history and preperation of a great variety of dishes. While most of his recipes are well into the complex end of the spectrum, he lists an oyster soup which, unlike similar recipes does not, as he puts it, “spoil both the oysters and the milk.” The key, apparently is to cook the oysters through as opposed to heating them slightly and adding them at the end. The recipe I’m using is sufficiently different that I’d feel weird calling it his recipe, but he still deserves the shout out.
-3 cups half-and-half at room temperature
-1 medium onion, 1/2 inch dice
-2-3 Tablespoons butter
-1 pint oysters, strained with liquor reserved
-1/4 lb smoked sausage, 1/2 inch dice
-2 teaspoon sea salt
First, melt your butter over a low heat and add the onions. Cook them slowly until they are just getting translucent, but not brown at all. If needed, rinse off the oysters, then add them to the pot and bring the heat up to medium-high. A substantial amount of water will be released, this is fine. About 5 minutes on, the oysters should look a bit cooked. More of a matte finish, less of a high-gloss.
Now this next part is important: Turn the heat down as low as it will go, add the oyster liquor and half-and-half (which should be at room temperature otherwise the shock can cause breakage.) Leave for at least one hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. If it gets too hot, it will break. If it breaks, it will still be delicious just not as pretty. Boo. Season with 2 teaspoons salt at this time.
While you wait, brown the diced sausage over a medium heat until nice and crispy. I’ll level with you, I meant to take a picture of the sausage and forgot. You know what crispy looks like, right? Do that. Either swirl these in right before serving or sprinkle on top in each bowl. This soup will serve 4 as a starter or 2 as a hearty main course with salad and focaccia.