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Minnesota Cooking: Oyster Stew

Char is a creative writer, artist, and inventor—in and out of the kitchen.

Oyster stew

Oyster stew

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 low heat.

Here is the definition:

Stew [stoo, styoo]: Verb (used with object) to cook (food) by simmering or slow boiling.

Why is it cooked slowly over 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 become opaque (i.e., not transparent). It is almost like a mild gravy.

This dish is prepared in two pans. One is for the milk and seasonings, and the other is 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 becomes rippled. At that point, they are ready to merge with the milk.

The original handwritten recipe

The original handwritten recipe

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

1 hour

1 hour

2 hours

2 quarts


  • 2 1/2 pints raw oysters
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 quarts milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 3/4 cup oyster liquor
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  1. Heat the milk over low heat. Drain the oysters and retain the liquid, or liquor. Add the liquor to the milk as it is heating.
  2. In a separate pan, heat the oysters in butter over medium heat. When they become finney, add the Worchestershire sauce.
  3. Mix the milk and oysters together. Add salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Two Cooking Methods

There are two different options for adding the oyster liquor (liquid). You can either add the liquor to the milk (as in the instructions above) or you can add it to the oysters as they are cooking in the butter. Either way, the stew will turn out fine. As long as you cook the oysters in butter, no one will be able to tell when you added what to what.

Notes About the Milk

  • Heat the milk in a pan over low heat to not quite boiling.
  • The milk will thicken slightly as it cooks. It won't thicken a great deal—just enough to make it opaque.

Notes About the Oysters

  • Remove the oysters from their container and place them into a colander. Strain and retain the liquid (liquor) into a bowl.
  • Raw shellfish have no edges. They are smooth and round in a flat sort of way.
  • The liquid resembles egg whites. You may need to sift the shellfish around in the colander to get the liquid to strain through. Patience works wonders.
  • In a frying pan, heat the butter over medium heat until it melts. Add the oysters to the pan.
  • Cook the oysters until their edges start to get "finney." This means that they start to look curly along the edges, like a stretched piece of material that never quite snaps back into shape.

Notes About the Seasonings

  • I used 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and about 10 squeezes with my pepper grinder to start. I added more salt and pepper later, when I decided it wasn't salty enough.
  • 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.
  • Add more salt and pepper if desired. You can even add more Worchestershire sauce, if you like.

Cook the Milk


How to Serve Oyster Stew

  1. Sprinkle some crackers in a bowl.
  2. Ladle several spoonfuls of stew into your bowl.
  3. Sprinkle some crackers on top.
  4. Enjoy!

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