#343 Oyster Stuffing and #344 Oyster Sauce

Oysters are rather expensive in the UK and it can be a rather arduous task shucking them, though in the US, they are much cheaper and often come in tubs preshucked in their own liquor ready for cooking. It is for these reasons that I have been trying to finish all the recipes in English Food that include oysters before I return to England in a little over a month’s time. These two are the final oyster recipes. Not only that, by cooking these recipes I have completed the Stuffings section of the Stuffings, Sauces & Preserves chapter. This might sound impressive, but if you clicked on the link, you’ll have seen that there were only five in the section, and one of those was a sauce!

These are two recipes that were made very popular during the Victorian era that put together shellfish and meat. I have grown to love this combination and so I was looking forward to cooking these. Past recipes on this vein are Chicken with Mussels, Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters as well as the classic Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding (and pie!).

I’m not going to blog the two individually because they cannot really be made separately. The first is a light stuffing made with classic stuffing ingredients like breadcrumbs and suet. The second is a simple béchamel sauce flavoured with liquor collected from the oysters used for the stuffing.

The quantities in the recipe are for a large turkey and it requires rather a lot of oysters – 4 to 5 dozen! You can halve the number if you are using the big Atlantic ones; it’s the equivalent to 2 tubs of the preshucked ones you see in supermarkets in the US.

If you do have to shuck your own, I have heard of a method that takes the pain out of it, though I have never tested it myself. Apparently, if you put your cleaned oysters in the freezer flat side facing up, they should magically open their shells after 10 minutes or so. The reason for this is that they go to sleep and relax their strong adductor muscle which you usually have to fight against with the shucking knife when you open them manually.

#343 Oyster Stuffing for Turkey and Other Poultry

Grigson says you can halve the quantities if using a large chicken, which is what I did. Even then, I found I still had plenty left over so I cooked it separately in an ovenproof dish.

First of all shuck 2 or 3 dozen oysters should you need to; do it over a sieve in a bowl so you can save the liquor for the oyster sauce. Chop the oysters, keeping the pieces large. Mix them into the other stuffing ingredients: 10 ounces of white breadcrumbs made from stale bread, 5 ounces of suet, 2 heaped tablespoons of parsley, the grated rind of a lemon, 2 heaped teaspoons of thyme, ¼ teaspoon of both nutmeg and mace, a good pinch of Cayenne pepper, 2 large beaten eggs, salt and pepper. It is important to mix these together rather loosely; there should be no dry breadcrumbs but at the same time it should not be mixed into to big ball of stodge.

Stuff the cavity of your poultry rather loosely – it will expand as it cooks – and truss the legs with some string. Also stuff it into the neck end too, if the flap of neck skin has been left on your bird, securing it with a couple of short skewers (I have noticed that the neck skin is usually removed in America). Any left over can be baked for thirty minutes in an ovenproof dish.

Roast the bird as normal, taking the total weight including stuffing when calculating the roasting time.

#344 Oyster Sauce

Open 2 dozen oysters, saving the liquor. Make a béchamel sauce by melting 2 ounces of butter in a saucepan then stir in two tablespoons of flour. Mix together with a wooden spoon to make a roux and cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes. This is a white roux, so don’t let it colour. Add ½ pint of milk in 3 or 4 parts, stirring until the milk is absorbed and the roux smooth before adding more, then stir in ¼ pint of double cream and the reserved oyster liquor from the sauce and stuffing. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring everyone now and again. This part could be done in advance if you need – make sure you cover the pan with a lid because a thick skin will quickly grow. Chop the oysters into good sized pieces and add them to the sauce. Heat through then season with salt, white pepper, grated nutmeg, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. The sauce should be the ‘consistency of double cream’, says Griggers.

FYI: Mrs Beeton suggests using left-over oyster sauce in a fish pie which I think is a marvellous idea.

#343 Oyster Stuffing for Turkey and Other Poultry. This was amazing – the oysters were tender and the stuffing was light, the flavour being lifted by the fresh herbs and the aromatic lemon zest.

#344 Oyster Sauce. This was a beautiful white and well-flavoured sauce mildly spiced with a wonderful iodine tang from all that oyster liquor. Absolutely delicious.

I can’t score these separately as they would never be made separately; that said this one is a no-brainer: 10/10.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters

This is the third and final recipe that uses the classic combination of beef and oysters. I was so dubious about it at first but now I relish and look forward to recipes like this. This one is a simple stew that is easy to prepare and uses few ingredients. It probably was at its peak of popularity in Victorian times – I have mentioned before a few times how oysters were so cheap they were used as a seasoning. The final product isn’t overly fishy as one might expect.

This will feed between 3 and 5 people depending upon greediness.

Start with your oysters; you need to prepare 18 of the buggers. However, this is only if you are using the small British ones, if you are using the large Pacific or Atlantic ones, you can get away with half or even a third of the amount. Luckily, being in the USA at the moment it is pretty easy to find the little bivalves pre-shucked in tubs in their own liquor. If you can’t get hold of the pre-shucked kind, I hear you can easily open them by putting them flat side up in the freezer and when the oysters fall asleep they open up. I have never tested this so it may all be nonsense. However you get your oysters, make sure you drain them well through a sieve and keep the liquor.

Next, the beefsteak – any kind ‘will do for this recipe, from chuck to rump’ – you need 1 ½ pounds in all. Cut it into large neat pieces and season well with salt and pepper. Melt 2 ounces of butterin a large deep pan with a lid and brown the beef, in batches if necessary. Once that job is done, add around ½ pint of water and the oyster liquor. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook until tender between one hour and 90 minutes depending on the cut of meat.

Whilst it gently bubbles away, mash together ½ ounce of butter with a rounded teaspoon of flour.  When the meat is ready, add 2 ounces of port and stir the butter and flour mixture in small knobs until the sauce thickens. You might not want to add it all. I like a sauce on the thick side so I did. Don’t let the sauce boil hard though. Next add the oysters – if large, cut into two or three pieces – and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oysters through for a couple of minutes – no longer, or they’ll be rubbery.

‘Serve very hot’, says Griggers, with triangles of bread fried in butter‘tucked around the sides’.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters. I love this combination so much! What a shame there are no more recipes left like this. The water had become a rich but not overpowering sauce that goes so well with the iodine-scented oysters. The fried bread was a great contrast in texture and the recipe is so easy and quick compared to a pie or pudding too. It is such a shame that oysters are so expensive. I am wondering if mussels could be used as a substitute. This one is going to remain a staple whilst I am in the USA where oysters are cheap! 10/10.

#320 Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pie

A while ago I made an extremely similar recipe – steak, kidney and oyster pudding. A seminal English dish that I had saved for the landmark 200th recipe. This pie essentially follows the same history (and recipe) as the pudding – the combination of the three main ingredients seems to start with Mrs Beeton. I have found similar recipes going back further like oyster pie, beef-steak and oyster pie, veal and oyster pie and calves’ foot and kidney pie. I could go on, but I shan’t, I think you get the message. The pudding was delicious so there was no way this could be a fail…

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It is worth mentioning my supplier for the beef again – I got it from Missouri Grass Fed Beef, the boss, Jeremy, gave my the kidney for nothing as well! Good man.
This pie uses exactly the same filling as the pudding, so click the link here to find out how to make it; it’s pretty straight-forward stuff. The important thing to note is to check how much and how watery the gravy is before you add the oysters – if there is alot, strain the gravy and boil it down until it darkens and thickens. You need to make it thicker that you would think, because you add oyster liquor to it when it has cooled.
Put the cold filling in a pie dish and get the pastry ready. You can use either puff or shortcrust pastry for the pie. I went for puff. Roll the pastry out and cut strips of pastry about half an inch wide to cover the rim of the pie dish, using water as glue. Griggers says to let the strips hang inwards a little to prevent hot filling from leaking out.
Brush the pastry rim with more water and cover the pie. Crimp down the edges so that the pastry is well-secured. Then Jane says to scallop the edges if you have shortcrust pastry or nick the pastry if puff pastry, after that make a central hole and a leaf design from any trimmings. I hardly had any trimmings left as I didn’t really have enough pastry. Lastly, make a pastry rose with a stem and fit it loosely into the central hole, then give the whole thing an egg glaze.
Bake for around 45 minutes at 220-230⁰C (425-450⁰F).
#320 Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pie – well I already knew this was going to be good seeing as I have essentially made this before, but just to reiterate: absolutely amazing. The combination of rich wine gravy, the metallic kidney and the creamy iodine finish of the oysters is fantastic. Mrs Beeton should be made a saint! 9/10.

#316 Oyster or Mussel Soup

There is no introduction to this recipe by Grigson in English Food. I am never sure whether Jane did this because she didn’t want to, or whether she thought she didn’t need to. It turns out the recipe goes back quite a bit with a huge amount of similar recipes cropping up during the nineteenth century, including examples from stalwarts such as Eliza Acton (1845), Alexis Soyer (1850) and Elizabeth Raffald (1769). Recipes also crop up in their droves in American cook books of the nineteenth century.

Oysters were hugely popular in British cuisine up until the early nineteenth century, and were at one point considered poor-man’s food, until the seas of Britain became polluted from the Industrial Revolution. These days, they are rather more expensive, though dropping in price now that our seas are much cleaner than they used to be. Farming helps keep the price of the oyster down and there are several successful farms around the UK now. The oyster farm is by no means a recent invention – the Gauls in the 7th century BC farmed them and sold them as far afield as Rome. It went a bit tits-up however when they were completely trounced by the Barbarians.
I chose to use oysters here, but you can use mussels for this recipe instead. There are several pluses to using them: if you are on a budget, they are good and cheap; and also it is easy to get the meat from them. If I were in England, I would probably go for mussels simply for the reason that shucking oysters is one major pain in the arse. However, here in America where seafood is very popular and you can walk into your local supermarket and buy pre-shucked fresh oysters in their own liquor from the fish section. Now that I know this, expect to see a lot more recipes that use oysters in the blog. Mussel farming, like oyster farming, is a main contributor to the reason they are cheap; they can be grown quickly and in great numbers on ‘parks’ made by hanging ropes down into the sea.
Eating seafood such as like oysters and mussels before starting this project would have filled me with dread – our family never ate things like this – but now they fill me with joy. I just love the little beasties.
This recipe is for 6 people (or 4 greedy ones).
Start off with your appropriate seafood: according to the book you’ll need either 2 dozen oysters or 2 pounds of mussels. The number of oysters you need will actually depend on the species of oyster available – 2 dozen if native oysters, or one dozen if the large Pacific or Atlantic species. Shuck the oysters, or alternatively leave them flat-side up in the freezer for a while until they open up for you. Either way, make sure you keep any oyster liquor. If you are using one of the large species, cut each one into two or three pieces.
If the mussel is your bivalve of choice, then give them a good scrub and pull out their beards should they have any. Tap each one: if the shells close, your mussel be alive and well, if it remains open, your mussel be dead, so discard it. Chuck them in a large pan, cover, and place over a high heat. After a few minutes, give them a shake and see if the mussels have opened. If they have they are cooked. Remove the meat from them and place them in sieve over a bowl to collect the juices. Don’t forget to keep any juices from the bottom of the cooking pan too.
Now the shellfish is prepared, you can get on with making the soup. Finely chop 4 shallots and soften them in 2 ounces of butter. Once golden, stir in two tablespoons of flour and let it cook for a minute or two. Find yourself a whisk and mix in the reserved juices and then 1 ¼ pints of light beef stock or veal stock. Season with sea salt, black pepper, Cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or so. When you are ready to serve, add the oysters or mussels plus ¼ pint of double cream and some chopped parsley. Bring it up to a boil, turn off the heat and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve immediately.
#316 Oyster or Mussel Soup. This was a fantastic soup! The combination of rich creamy stock and fresh iodine-scented oysters was magic. One of the best soups I’ve done – and really easy too. If you’re doing a dinner party and you want to impress without breaking your back, I would definitely have a go at this. I shall try it again soon but with mussels and see if they are as good as the oysters. 9/10.

#200 Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding

As promised, a dish that is more English that roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, at least I think so anyway. It may be because I’m a Northerner, but I also think (and I could be wrong here) that although it is very English, it hasn’t travelled to other countries as well as, say, roast beef. In other words, it’s a sort of hidden gem. I have been saving this one for number 200 for a while, though I did change my mind a fair few times.

The seemingly unusual ingredient here is, of course, the oysters. The recipe is surprisingly recent: it appears as a steak pudding in a book by Eliza Acton in 1845 and the kidney turns up in Mrs Beeton’s Household Management nearly fifteen years later. In those days folks living near the coasts were falling over oysters – they diminished however due to a combination of an increased population eating them and the increased pollution created by all those extra people. No one wants a shitty oyster. However, before this, they were cheap and the preferred alternative to the very pricey mushrooms that the posh gentry would have enjoyed. It was only since around the Second World War that mushrooms have been cultivated on a large scale, before that they acquired by foraging: limited and very seasonal. Of course, these days it is the mushrooms that are ten-a-penny, and the oysters that break the bank. That said, native oysters are in season at the moment and the ones I bought from Out of the Blue in Chorlton were just sixty pence each.

This pudding is a pretty posh all-out one; giant, full of rump steak, red wine and extra beef stock plus both mushrooms and oysters:

To begin, make the filling: cut two pounds of trimmed rump steak into one inch cubes and then slice a pound of ox kidney (or veal, if you’re being really posh), removing any fat or gristly bits on the way. Toss these in two tablespoons of seasoned flour. Chop a large onion and fry it gently in two ounces of butter until nicely softened, remove with a slotted spoon, turn up the heat and then hard fry the beef and kidney. When brown transfer to a casserole dish (or, if you have a cast-iron one that goes on the hob you can keep it all in there. Deglaze the pan (or casserole dish) with either a pint of beef stock, or half-and-half stock and red wine. Now slice 8 ounces of mushrooms and fry them in an ounce of butter. Add these along with the cooked onions and a bouquet garni to the meat. Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 1 ½ hours at 140-150⁰C. You can do all this the day before if need be.

Next, open the oysters: Griggers suggests 18-24 oysters, though makes them an optional ingredient for the pudding. I went for a dozen as I didn’t want to go bonkers with the spending. Add them, plus their liquor to the meat. I’ve written about opening oysters before.

To make the suet pastry, use a knife to mix together 10 ounces of self-raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, ¼ teaspoon of salt, ground white pepper, ¼ teaspoon of thyme and 5 ounces of chopped fresh suet (use the packet stuff if you can’t get hold of it). Now add cold water little by little to the mix, stirring with the knife. Use the minimum amount of water that will bring the pastry together, using your hands towards the end. If it seems too wet, add more flour. There’s enough pastry to line a three pint pudding basin, so roll it out in a circle large enough and remove a quarter of it (you’ll use this later). This’ll make it easy to line the basin – use water as glue to stick down the ‘hem’. Spoon in the mixture and then roll out the reserved quarter into a circle to make the lid. Place this on top and fold any surplus edging over it and glue it with more water. Secure the lid if using a plastic basin, or cover with buttered, pleated foil secured with string. Place in a steamer and cook for one and a half hours; don’t let it boil dry. Turn it out onto a plate and serve immediately.


#200 Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding. The poshest pudding in the world! It was very, very good though. The beef and kidneys were very tender and the gravy was good and rich. The real revelation was the oysters – at first I wasn’t very sure about them, but it was a taste that was acquired very quickly. They provided a mysterious iodine tang to the whole thing. The original surf ‘n’ turf! The only thing I would change is the amount of pastry – there was barely enough to line the basin, making it split open when it was turned out! 9/10.

#132 Oyster loaves

One of the least-explored chapters in English Food is the Fish chapter. The main reason for this is that I have the least experience of the foods therein. Being English (I won’t say British as Wales, N. Ireland and Scotland may be different) means, generally, the only fish you get to eat is white fish – cod and haddock. Though I love the fish I’ve tried, one thing we have never eaten as a family growing up in Yorkshire is shellfish. The only exception is prawns because my Mum likes them. Because I’ve never really tried the bivalves – cockles etc., I find them tricky to get my head around them – they look like something from a biological specimen jar and do not resemble anything else that might turn up on the dinner table. I felt an inauguration coming on, and “why not” I thought, start at the top, with the king – oysters.

I popped on down to the Arndale Market in Manchester, got some rock oysters for 70p each and an oyster knife for a fiver from the cooks stall. Hopefully I’ll get to use it more than once…

I thought I’d better not go straight in at the deep end with a raw squirming oyster, but instead get there by degrees. First step – oyster cooked and smothered in some kind of sauce with lots of other flavours. Second step – oyster cooked but by itself. Final step – raw oyster. Griggers was there to help, natch, with this recipe straight out of the 1970s:

This recipe is per person, so multiply up depending on how many you’re cooking for:

Begin by heating your oven to 220°C whilst waiting for it to heat up, open 4 oysters with an oyster knife. This can be tricky if using large rock oysters with big gnarly shells, but with a bit of patience it’s quite easy to get the knack for opening them. Give them a rinse and a scrub under the cold tap first and make sure you hold the flat side of the oyster uppermost and with your grasping hand wrapped in a tea towel. Use the knife to prize the hinged back part of the oyster open. Do this over a bowl so you can keep any liquor that escapes – very important for later. I found that placing a sieve lined with some kitchen paper filtered away any sand or cracked bits of shell.

Now hollow out 2 bread rolls by first slicing the top off and then scooping out the centre, making sure you don’t make any holes in the side. Brush the lid and roll inside and out with melted butter – about ½ an ounce – and bake for 10 minutes until crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, melt another ½ ounce of butter in a pan and cook the oysters for around a minute and a half until they are opaque and firm. Remove them and cut them up into two or three pieces. Pour the oyster liquor into the pan along with 2 tablespoons each of double and soured cream, and season with salt, pepper and 3 or 4 drops of Tabasco sauce. Reduce it down to a thick sauce, stirring all the time, and warm the oysters through in the sauce. Check for seasoning. Lastly, divide the mixture between the hollowed bread rolls and serve immediately.

“Feed me, Seymore”

#132 Oyster Loaves – 7.5/10. I really enjoyed this. I’ve heard people say that oysters taste of ‘the sea’, or ‘ozone’ or iodine’; I’ve never been sure what they meant by that, but now I do! The oysters were sweet, rich and very soft and the piquant, yet creamy sauce really worked well. The idea of putting them in a hollowed bread roll might seem a bit naff now, but you could serve on a circle of bread fried gently in butter to make look more with the times. One would make a really good first course. I am very impressed with my first oyster adventure and would definitely encourage anyone who is squeamish about them to give this recipe a try – it simple and not expensive.

FYI: In days of yore, oysters were considered food for the poor and were largely ignored by the posh. They were used as a substitute for mushrooms (hence steak, kidney and oyster pie) in many dishes as they were very rare due to the fact no-one had worked out how to cultivate them. It wasn’t until they became scarce due to loss of habitat and pollution that they were thought to be a delicacy.