The best oyster stew I’ve eaten in recent months was served by the Oyster Shak in Brunswick, Ga., at the mainland end of the causeway to St. Simons Island. Rich and buttery, it comes in a cup or bowl with a generous portion of fat, juicy, whole Apalachicola oysters.

The best oyster stew I’ve ever eaten in my life was made by my grandmother and mother. Unfortunately, they are no longer living and I never thought to find out just how they made theirs.

Nevertheless, I do manage to make a little oyster stew at home now and then. Although my recipe is considerably inferior to Grandmother’s, Mom’s or the Oyster Shak’s, it still tastes pretty darn good to me, especially on a cold winter’s night. The biggest catch is that I have to make it only when my wife is not around. She hates the thought of oyster stew — especially my version of it — and can’t abide the smell.

I made some just a couple of weeks ago. Here’s how:

Captain Keith’s Homemade Oyster Stew

1. Open a can of Campbell’s Oyster Stew.

2. Pour the contents into a pan.

3. Fill the can with milk and pour the milk into the pan. (If you consider this to be two steps instead of one, please number appropriately.)

4. Put the pan on the stove.

5. Turn on the appropriate burner, preferably the one under the pan. (And, just as an aside, don’t you hate those recipes in newspapers and magazines that leave out essential steps like this?)

6. Stirring occasionally, cook the stew on medium low until piping hot.

7. Add lots and lots of ground black pepper. (Optional step: Then add even more black pepper.)

8. Pour the stew into a bowl.

9. Be sure to turn off the stove. (Again, I call your attention to the aside with Step 5.)

10. Crumble firm saltines into the stew. (I say firm because some but not all generic store brands are too soft and flaky.)

11. Put ketchup on top of the crumbled saltines.

12. Eat. (You get the best results when you use a spoon.)

13. When the whole layer of saltines is gone, add more. Add more ketchup and continue eating.

14. Repeat this process until all the stew is gone.

A note about the canned stew: My recollection is that in my youth Campell’s Oyster Stew had a small number of whole oysters in each can. The cans I’ve bought recently have only small bits and pieces of oysters. But the stew still has that distinctive oyster taste, and it’s still good.

A note about the ketchup: Some purists will object to this practice, and it’s optional. I would never put ketchup in stew when eating at a fancy place like, say, the Oyster Shak, but in the comfort of my home, I’ll eat the stew my way.

Every bite is like a trip to the sea shore.


Editor’s note: This story could be the first in a series, Mastering the Art of Keith’s Cooking. Future topics might include how to serve chips with extra hot salsa “Billy Howard style,” how to cook bratwurst on a George Foreman grill, the connoisseur’s guide to frozen pizza, proper preparation of pommes frites avec moutarde (also known as French fries with mustard), making Southern cassoulet (also known as beanie weenies), and the proper way to open a can of beer. If you would prefer not to read those future stories, please do Like the Dew readers a favor: Write your own stories for the Food and Drink section so we won’t need to run Keith’s.

Photo captions: Top — Keith’s oyster stew actually cooking on a stove; Bottom — A genuine can of Campbell’s Oyster Stew.


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Keith Graham

Keith Graham

Keith Graham was among the recipients of the prestigious Stella Artois prize at the 2010 Edinburgh Festival. Named for a blind piano player, he is also well known for always giving money to street accordion players. A quotation that he considers meaningful comes from the Irish writer Roddy Doyle: "The family trees of the poor don't grow to any height." In addition to contributing to Like the Dew, Keith frequently posts quotations and links and occasionally longer articles at http://tartantambourine.com/

20 Comments
  1. Eleanor Ringel Cater

    what a fab idea. And Keith, as always, is a most welcome voice!!!!

  2. That sounds like a true trip to the sea shore, alright… if you lived in Kansas!

  3. Terri Evans

    Lee is laughing so hard in the next room that I fear he will fall out of his chair. I, on the other hand, am intrigued by how truly thorough you were in your recipe steps for a Campbell’s soup. Bravo! I’m hoping some of us (including me) will “bite” on your threat. Uh hum, I mean offer.

  4. Lee Leslie

    Keith – Is it okay to substitute ingredients in your recipe – for instance, Campbell’s Tomato Soup?

  5. Keith Graham

    Generally, I try to let readers have their say about anything I write and not get in the way. But the perceptive comments on this story just cry out for some kind of response. First, Eleanor, thank you, thank you. Secondly, Urban Reader, as Eleanor once taught me, “We’re not in Kansas any more.” (I think that might have been an allusion to a movie.) But if we were in Kansas, my oyster stew would be served with frozen fish sticks and called a seafood platter. Terri, thanks but I realize I should have been more thorough. I left out initial steps like a) study the recipe, b) make a list, c) drive to the grocery store, d) watch out for people who will try to back into you in the parking lot while talking on their cell phones or texting, etc. Perhaps, I can address those in the future stories in this series (or at least in the forthcoming book and movie). Mary, yes, if you see Chrys please tell her to come back and don’t even mention that I will do all the cooking, relying on my growing list of recipes, if she does. And Lee you raise an intriguing question which I promise to address the next time I appear on “Iron Chef.”

  6. Ron Taylor

    I tried your recipe but couldn’t get past Step 1 before deciding to make my nightly Zesto’s run instead. But I do think you have a series in the making, especially for us sad bachelor types. When I got out my can opener I noticed it was rusted. Maybe that was the problem.

  7. Keith,
    Put a little Siracha in that stew. Beats ketchup to heck and back! And I, too, think there were whole oysters in bygone Campbell’s. Well, very small whole oysters.

  8. Keith, you should have offer wine suggestions to go with this feast, perhaps a vintage Boone’s Farm or Ripple? I miss sharing the Dorf with you and Chrys. Harold Hardendorf sends his regards to both you.

  9. Jack Wilkinson

    O’ Captain Keith, our Captain, cook on! and you use Heinz ketchup, yes?

  10. My father, Isaac Hardeman Jones, born and bred in Macon, GA, always made oyster stew on New Year’s Eve. It was simple. Saute some fresh oysters briefly in butter. When oysters puff up, add milk and maybe some cream. Heat, but do not scald milk. Serve hot with soda crackers. Even as a child I loved this stew. Good memories.

  11. Keith, Lee’s suggestion for tomato soup may even take out some more extra steps. Just add oysters to the tomato soup and you want have to add ketsup. Although you might have to close your eyes while eating.

  12. Oyster stew sans oysters is one of my daddy’s favorites … he loves it just as long as you don’t actually put any oysters in his bowl. Then he makes faces and refuses to eat it. But he always adds saltines and catsup to his oyster-flavored milk.

    By the way, he has acted like this since I was about 6.

  13. Ooooh. Boone’s Farm, the Housewife’s Friend. When my kids were little, I’d put the baby down for his nap, and I would sit out on the driveway and drink Boone’s Farm in a coffee mug. Fond memories.

  14. I am concerned that you are praising a Georgia resturant for serving Gulf Coast oysters, the oysters from the Georgia/Carolina Bight are far superior.

  15. Jingle Davis

    oysters, oyster liquor, milk, cream, butter, salt and lots of black pepper make good oyster stew, the kind i’m sure your mother made, keith.

    my version of canned campbell’s oyster stew is fish sticks. although i ate lots of fresh fish growing up on st. simons, we also ate lots of seapak fish sticks because my dad started seapak and invented/developed fish sticks. out of family loyalty, i still buy them occasionally.

    hope to see you and chrys soon, preferably on the island..

  16. My Mother was from the Sunbury-Half Moon area of Liberty County and she added pepper sauce vinagar (vinagar and hot peppers) to jingle’s oyster stew recipe very slowly as not to turn the milk into cottage cheese. You will throw out the other recipes.

  17. My grandfather made clam chowder. Step one, he would go out about waist deep in the bay with a burlap satchel and feel for quahogs with his feet. That is pretty much all I remember of his recipe except sherry was involved in the preparation. I am not entirely sure it all ended up in the pot so I am hesitant to suggest this as an ingredient. Anyway, I had an epiphany reading your very thorough recipe for oyster stew. Could I just substitute a can of Campbell’s clam chowder for the Campbell’s oyster stew or would that be too big a stretch? Of course, I would change the name to Capt. Keith’s Chowda but I think that most of the other steps could apply.

  18. Andy Brack

    Intrigued with this idea of actually opening a can of beer. Looking forward to instructions. (Have been confused since the death of ring pop tops, so you can probably figure I’m pretty thirsty by now.)

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