During the 1800’s New York City pushcarts sold oysters by the bushel, freshly harvested from nearby Hudson Bay. A stunning 700 million oysters were harvested from the Bay in 1880 alone!
This oyster 'bonanza' occurred during the mass immigration of Irish settlers to the United States. Even before the Potato Famine of 1840, Irish immigrants had come to America hoping for a better lives and a fresh start in a new land.
The vast majority of these Irish were members of the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, they followed their religious dietary customs throughout the year, especially abstaining from eating meat on Christmas Eve. Fish was their protein of choice instead of meat.
Back home in Ireland, the Christmas Eve meal had traditionally revolved around the ling fish. Cooks made a simple stew from dried salted ling, milk, butter and pepper. Milk tenderized the fish, and when mixed with the butter and salt, created a rich, deliciousholiday broth.
Irish cooks could, however, find no dried ling in America, but they did find plenty of oysters. And, as it happens, oysters taste pretty similar taste: they’re salty, briny and have an amazing texture.
The ling stew recipe was quickly adapted and oysters substituted for ling. The Irish cooks in charge of the dinner didn’t even have to live near the ocean. Because of the "Oyster Rage", oysters were canned, pickled and yes, even dried, as they made their way across the entire continent to waiting Irish cooks.
Now as then, oyster stew is still an honored Christmas tradition among many Irish-American families and a growing Holiday favorite among leading chefs from coast to coast. Consider adding it to your winter menu.(Taylor Shellfish Farms offers chef-quality oysters year round).