Warm Up Winter with Oyster Stew

Oyster Stew by Chef Zack Mills, True Chesapeake Oyster Co. | Photo by David Stuck

True Chesapeake Oyster Co. builds its menu around locally sourced produce, including squashes, beets and carrots.

“We source local, and we’re in the season where we’re seeing a transition into a lot more vegetables and heartier items. Our goal is to highlight all of that stuff,” says Executive Chef Zack Mills. What can top a warm, comforting soup? “I love soup. I can’t say enough about it,” Mills says with a laugh. “It’s the kind of dish that warms you up, and I find it enjoyable.”

Although he’s always looking for new ideas, his staple soup to make at home is butternut squash with corn, smoky sausage, such as kielbasa or andouille, and chives.

“I’ve been making it for over 15 years,” he says, “and I honestly can’t remember where I originally found it, but I’ve just adapted it and made it my own.”

We’re sharing another one of Mills’ favorites, a popular oyster stew that uses spices such as fennel, tarragon and raw Pernod to create different anise flavors that pair perfectly with oysters.

“It’s taking your average stew and spicing it up a bit to wake up your palate. It’s definitely a dish that can be made at home,” says Mills.

Executive Chef Zack Mills, True Chesapeake Oyster Co. | Photo by David Stuck

Executive Chef Zack Mills’ Oyster Stew
Makes 4 servings

For the Base:
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 bulb fennel, washed well and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
3 medium shallots, diced
Coarse salt, for seasoning
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons hot sauce
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
1 bay leaf
1 fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley sprig
4 cups (1 quart) heavy cream
Oyster liquor from approximately
20 shucked oysters

For the Stew:
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup baby potatoes, halved
1 cup diced leeks
1 cup diced fennel
Oyster Stew base (see recipe below)
20 oysters, shucked
and liquid reserved
2 tablespoons finely chopped
fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons minced chives
Crisp, crumbled bacon pieces

For the Stew Base:
1. Heat butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add fennel, celery and shallots; season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are fragrant and translucent. Sprinkle with flour and stir to fully coat vegetables with flour. Cook 2 minutes more, until the flour has a toasted, nutty smell.
2. Add Worcestershire and hot sauces. Stir mixture with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes to allow stew to thicken and flavors to marry together.
3. Strain stew base and set aside.

For the Stew:
1. Add butter to the bottom of a pot over medium heat and allow to melt. Add potatoes and cook for 5 minutes or until they begin to soften. Add leeks and fennel; cook for 3 more minutes. Pour in stew base and cook for 5 minutes or until all vegetables are cooked but still slightly al dente.
2. While stew is simmering, add oysters and cook until they firm up, about 3 minutes. Once cooked, fold in tarragon and chives. Garnish with bacon pieces, if desired, and serve.

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