Minnesota Cooking: Oyster Stew

Updated on January 21, 2017

The reason oyster stew is called "oyster stew" is because of two things. One, it contains oysters. And two, the milk is cooked slowly over a low heat.

The definition:

stew [stoo, styoo] VERB (USED WITH OBJECT) to cook (food) by simmering or slow boiling.

Why is it cooked slowly over a low heat? Milk has a tendency to scorch if you boil it, but it thickens slightly when you heat it to just under boiling. It doesn't thicken a lot, just enough to opaque, or not see though. Almost a mild gravy.

This dish is done in two pans. One for the milk and seasonings, and one to sauté the oysters in butter until they are finney, meaning that you cook them in the butter long enough that the edge of the oyster gets all rippled. At that point, they are ready to merge with the milk.

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  • raw oysters
  • liquid from oysters
  • 2 quarts milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon worchestershire sauce
  • 1/2 stick butter

Cook Time

Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 hour
Ready in: 2 hours
Yields: 2 quarts of oyster stew


  1. Heat milk on low.
  2. Heat oysters in butter on medium.
  3. Mix milk and oysters together.

The Oyster Preparation

The oysters are removed from their container and place into a colander. The liquid should be strained and retained in a bowl, and the shellfish are placed in a frying pan that contains half a stick of butter that has been heated to melting. I used medium heat.

The oysters are placed into the pan, and they are cooked until their edges start to get finney. It actually starts to look curly along the edge, like a stretched piece of material that never quite snaps back into shape.

Seasoning the Oysters

As the oysters cook in their butter, you should sprinkle a teaspoon of salt across them. As soon as they turn finney, you should then pour the rest of the fluid drained off the oysters into the pan. this guarantees that the liquid is cooked. Worcestershire sauce is added at this point and some black pepper, both ground and cracked.

The MIlk

The milk is in a separate pan and is heated on a low heat to just below boiling. It will thicken slightly as it cooks. It doesn't thicken a great deal, just enough to make it opaque.

Getting Started

See how round the raw shellfish looks? There are no edges. It's just smooth and round in a flat sort of way.

Place a bowl under a colander to collect the liquid the oysters are packed in.

Oysters drained and liquid retained.

One thing I noticed about the liquid is that it resembles egg whites. You have to sift the shellfish around in the colander to get the liquid to drain through. Patience works wonders.

Warm Milk in Pan

Now that the milk is in the pan and is warming, we go on to cooking the oysters.

The butter is melted in the pan and the oysters are added when the butter is nearly melted.


Salt, ground black pepper and fresh cracked pepper.

The dry ingredients are sprinkled on as the oysters cook in the butter.

I used 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and about 10 squeezes with my pepper grinder to start. I added more salt, more pepper later, when I decided it wasn't salty enough.


See how they look finney now?

The Wet Ingredients

Once the oysters are finney, then you add the Worchestershire sauce, the retained liquid from draining the oysters and the pan of milk that you've been heating in a separate pan.

At this point, you can taste it, and decide whether you need a little more salt, a little more pepper, and maybe even more Worchestershire sauce.


At this point, all of your ingredients are in one pan.

Turn the heat down and let it merge, and then, sprinkle crackers in a bowl and ladle several spoonfuls into your bowl and sprinkle some crackers across the surface of your stew.

Then, eat.

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