An Oyster Dish for People Who Don't Like Oysters
Yes, oyster pie is a thing.
That was the refrain I had to repeat all week after I told colleagues what I was preparing to cook and chronicle for the next Coastal Resources blog story. Even among Lowcountry natives, the mention of oyster pie elicited furrowed brows – no one had personally tried it, and all seemed mistrustful of the combination of pastry and shellfish.
Even though it doesn’t enjoy popularity today, oyster pie has a long history in the annals of American cookery. The very first cookbook published in the United States, a reprint of the British The Compleat Housewife, contained directions “To make an oyster pye,” which included some decidedly unusual ingredients (sliced sweetbreads, a dozen larks, lumps of bone marrow, and 'lamb-stones' are all suggested as potential additions).
Through the oyster-crazed 1800s and into the twentieth century, many Americans continued to cook oyster pie. Variations on the dish are in three older South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) publications in my office: the 1991 Recreational Shellfish Guide, the 25th Anniversary Marine Resources Division Cookbook, and the 1981 South Carolina Wildlife Cookbook.
Somewhere between a quiche, a casserole, and stuffing, oyster pie is a rich, comforting accompaniment to any cool-season meal. In many families it's a beloved tradition on the Thanksgiving or Christmas menu, in part due to its ability to please even the oyster-averse – the oysters lose their objectionable texture in this pie, and their flavor comes through as a subtle and agreeable brininess.
The classic oyster pie recipe is a bare-bones affair, requiring just a handful of standard pantry items in addition to the oysters. That makes this slightly elevated version easy to modify depending on what you have lying around. You could substitute shallots or green onions for the leek, any kind of mushrooms for the shiitakes, and any number of cracker varieties for the base.
I shucked these oysters (thanks Henry Davega for the bounty) over the weekend and stored them in their own liquid in the coldest part of the fridge until I was ready to cook. If you’re short on time or shucking skills, many seafood markets sell containers of preshucked oysters.
The verdict on this recipe? It was delicious. The ruling was unanimously positive among nine taste-testers this week, including several avowed oyster skeptics. The pie plate was polished clean within an hour. Add something special to your next holiday spread and let's bring oyster pie back.
- 2 cups shucked oysters (cut in half if large) in their liquid
- 1 ½ cups shiitake or baby bella mushrooms
- 1 leek
- ¾ cup milk
- 2 eggs
- Half stick of butter
- Several cups crushed crackers (oyster, Ritz, Townhouse all good choices)
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Tabasco or hot sauce of choice
- 9-inch pie pan or small casserole dish
Strain liquid from oysters and set aside. Rinse oysters thoroughly to remove any grit. Slice and sauté leeks and mushrooms over medium heat in butter until mushrooms start to brown. Mix sautéed leeks and mushrooms with milk, eggs, and 1/2 cup oyster liquid. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease casserole or pie dish and cover bottom with a layer of crushed crackers. Add a layer of oysters, followed by a layer of liquid mixture. Add several pats of butter and sprinkle with pepper. Continue to layer crackers, oysters, and liquid. If layers appear dry, add a touch more milk. Top with crushed crackers and pats of butter. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately one hour. Serve with hot sauce.