First thing you should know. I love oysters and hate tarragon. Well if truth be told, I used to hate tarragon. Why I hated this herb is now way beyond my comprehension! It truly makes no sense at all when you consider I’ve always loved fennel seed, fresh fennel, and other anise flavored ingredients. But for whatever reason, the charms of tarragon simply eluded me. Perhaps it’s because I never tasted fresh tarragon until I moved to Camano Island. (And believe me the difference between fresh and dried tarragon is about the same as frozen petite peas and peas that have been canned.) Really! And along with my recent discovery that tarragon used in moderation is absolutely delightful, I’ve discovered another anise flavored delicacy – licorice. Now, I’m not talking about those black ropes we ate as kids. I’m talking about the real thing. My favorite is made in Holland (says Holland on the package folks, so who am I to argue with the company who produces the product), calls itself “Dutch Licorice” and is imported by hafco. We buy it at PFI. (If you live in the Seattle area, look up PFI – Pacific Food Importers. And then next time you are near the International District/stadium area, pay a visit to one of my favorite places to shop for imported groceries. It’s not fancy, but if you come out of there not having spent at least $50, you’re a better person than I am. Or at least know how to show better restraint!) But back to oyster stew. (I get so easily distracted!)
This recipe including tarragon is my version of the one dish I always order when we dine at the Oyster Creek Inn, one of our favorite restaurants. The Inn is located along Chuckanut Drive perched on a cliff where the dining room overlooks scenic Oyster Creek. The food is amazing, the service impeccable, and everyone is treated like an old and valued friend. (And not in that smarmy, “Hi, my names Bob, I’ll be your server, is this your first time to our restaurant” kind of way. God I hate that! But rather with the charm of a European restaurant that caters to people who appreciate fine dining.)
On our first visit to the restaurant I found Oyster Stew on the menu. (I love oyster stew.) But I almost didn’t try their version because of the tarragon. (Thank heaven some instinct told me I would not rue my decision, so I went ahead and placed my order.) I can’t begin to tell you how delighted I was with just my first bite. I could not believe that any dish containing tarragon could taste so wonderful. Right then and there I decided I would figure out a way to make this delightful stew at home. Now, to be perfectly honest, my stew is not the same as the stew at the restaurant. I start with a small bit of bacon, and finish with a drop of Pernod or ouzo. The bacon I know they don’t use, and the Pernod is really just a favorite of mine so I add a drop at the end. (Actually, the restaurant too may finish with Pernod, but I certainly can’t attest to that fact. And it’s not like I feel comfortable asking them for the recipe. Even I’m not that gauche!)
So if you too are an oyster stew lover, give this first course stew a try. (I call it a first course stew because it is very, very rich.) But if you are as crazy about oysters as Mr. C. and I both are, just make an entire meal out of it. Just make sure to have lots of oyster crackers on the side. The crackers not only help cut the richness of the stew, they contribute a lovely crunchy element to the meal.
And if you are lucky enough to live in the Pacific NW, especially north of Everett, consider spending an unforgettable evening at the Oyster Creek Inn. Don’t hesitate to order anything on the menu. You will not be disappointed. Visit www.oystercreekinn.net for more information. Tell them Mr. and Mrs. C. sent you. (They won’t have a clue who Mr. and Mrs. C are, but it’s always fun to add a little non threatening suspense to someone’s life. Believe me, the wonderful wait staff is up to the challenge!)
- 2 slices lean bacon, chopped
- butter, if needed
- ¼ c. finely chopped shallot
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 2 T. flour
- 1 small (10-oz.) container fresh oysters
- 1 (8-oz.) bottle clam juice
- 1 c. chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ tsp. chopped fresh tarragon
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- pinch white pepper
- 1 c. heavy cream
- ½ tsp. Pernod or Greek ouzo, or to taste
- 2 T. chopped Italian parsley, opt.
- oyster crackers, opt.
Fry bacon in a large, heavy covered saucepan until crisp. Remove bacon from pan; set aside. (Bacon will be added as a garnish when stew is served.) Fry the shallot in the bacon grease until transparent. (If not enough bacon grease in pan, add about a tablespoon of butter.) Add garlic and cook for about a minute or until garlic releases aroma. Stir in the flour and let cook for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, strain the oysters through a sieve over a bowl. Reserve oysters; add liquid to the pan. Whisk in the clam juice and chicken stock. Add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat slightly and cook for about 6 minutes or until liquid reduced to about 2 cups.
Reduce heat to low and add the tarragon, salt, and pepper. Add the heavy cream; cover pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Cut reserved oysters in half, or thirds if they are large and add to pan; cook for about 4 minutes or until just hot. Remove from heat; remove the bay leaf and stir in Pernod. Serve immediately topped with a bit of the fried bacon and a sprinkle of fresh parsley. Serve with oyster crackers.