American history would be incomplete without the intriguing story of the nation’s love of oysters. From the heritage of the First Nations to today’s elite dining rooms, oysters should be part of the American menu from January to December.
Within that rich shellfish legacy is a little known story about oysters and Christmas Eve.
Traditionally New Englanders dined on oyster stew the night before Christmas Day. And while it’s often thought that hungry Plymouth Pilgrims started the custom, the actual origin of the holiday dish started much later with another group of very hungry immigrates.
When the Potato Famine of the 1840s destroyed this essential food crop of the Irish poor, their weary eyes and hopeful hearts turned to America. Initially feared and rejected, through perseverance and dedication they enriched the American culture.
One enduring gift still shared with all Americans is the Irish love of seafood. In Ireland Christmas Eve dinners traditionally included a savory stew made with cheap ling fish. However, the New World offered an abundance of a different ingredient - marvelous, fabulous (and inexpensive) oysters!
And so, with the unavailable ling fish out and oysters in, American Irish Oyster Stew was born and is still served on Christmas Eve in households now from “sea to shining sea”. Why not share this warming tradition with your staff this Holiday season?
Irish Christmas Oyster Stew
- 4 Tablespoons of butter
- 1 large carrot, finely diced (about a cup)
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced (about a cup)
- 1 medium onion, finely diced (about a cup)
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon of paprika or Old Bay seasoning
- 2 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- 1 quart of Taylor Shucked Oysters, their liquor reserved.
- 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon (or ½ tablespoon dried)
- 2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced into half inch pieces
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- 4 cups of whole milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a large pot over medium high heat.
- Add in the chopped carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and bay leaf.
- Once the vegetables are soft, sprinkle the mixture with the flour and paprika.
- Stir to coat the vegetables in the flour.
- Add the oyster liquor, water, and potatoes.
- Simmer until the potatoes are tender.
- Add in the cream, milk, and reserved oysters.
- Simmer until the oysters have curled around the edges.
- Remove the bay leaf.
- After you add in the cream, the stew starts to come together.
- Serve the stew, piping hot, with oyster crackers or buttery crackers.