Dad’s Holiday Oyster Stew Recipe


  • 1 pint shucked oysters in their liquid
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 medium shallots or one small onion, finely minced
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 cups whole milk or evaporated milk, diluted
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 to 3 drops Tabasco sauce, (optional)
  • Oyster crackers


  • Strain the oysters reserving the juice. Check for bits of shell and sand in the oysters themselves and the liquid, too. Remove whatever you find, of course.
  • In a 3 to 4-quart saucepan melt the butter over medium heat, stir in the shallots or finely minced onions and saute until they are softened and clear. Blend in a few pinches of salt and pepper. Cook 30 seconds. Stir in the milk, cream, and oyster liquid. If you want a little kick you can add a few drops of Tabasco. Bring it all to a simmer. Cook for 2 minutes at a gentle bubble and take care it doesn’t boil over. Keep it at a simmer.
  • Now turn the heat down so the liquid barely bubbles and add in the oysters. Cook them for just a minute or until their edges begin to curl. We need them to be very tender. Serve the stew right away with oyster crackers.
  • The adults can enjoy all of it, and the kids can enjoy the broth!

Every Christmas or New Year’s my dad would make oyster stew. It was a yearly ritual, and it was my dad who made it. My mom was not involved. This was his baby and he only made it at Christmas or the days between Christmas and New Year’s. Whenever he had time. We’d troop over to the Fareway grocery store just off Main Street on South First Avenue in Marshalltown, Iowa, and pick up a couple pints of oysters in a jar. If we didn’t have any in the cupboard we’d get some evaporated milk, too, and then we’d go home and make it. For some reason dad always made it with evaporated milk.

As a kid, I loved the broth. Honestly? I hated the oysters. The texture, to me as a kid, was disgusting. But to be fair to the oyster, I gingerly bit into one to see what all the fuss was about, and one time was enough for the kid! But the broth! The broth and oyster crackers were heaven.

I never did ever find out where this tradition came from. My dad grew up in Ohio so it wasn’t like he was right at the ocean and had oysters at his fingertips. Even though my dad was kind of a blue-collar artist he did have his sophisticated side. He loved opera and he sang it, too. Sometimes as he was making the stew he would sing from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. I thought oyster stew was an extravagance in the middle of a wintry corn field.

So where this oyster stew business came from I’ll never know. I never asked and now he’s gone. Luckily, I watched him make it so many times that I learned the recipe. In remembrance of Christmas and New Year’s Holidays here’s my Dad’s oyster stew recipe.