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.
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.