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Recipes and Stories

8 November 2017: Old-Fashioned Scalloped Oysters

Old-Fashioned Scalloped Oysters

Since fall is my favorite season for cooking, it shouldn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that Thanksgiving is my favorite cook’s holiday. Normally, the second week in November would find me up to my elbows in planning—gathering recipes, happily mapping out every detail, stocking up on the basics.

And by the week of the feast, my kitchen is fragrant with a simmering broth pot, bubbling cranberry conserve, baking cheese straws, and toasting pecans. For the space of that week, no kitchen job—not even peeling brussels sprouts—seems tedious.

This year, however, my kitchen will be a lot quieter, not to mention less fragrant. We won’t be gathering at our own table: My father will mark his ninetieth birthday on Thanksgiving day, and we’re traveling to upstate Carolina to share the holiday feast with my parents. My mother and I will be cooking together, and while I’ve written nine cookbooks, it’s still her kitchen: We’ll be doing things her way.

I don’t mind. I’m grateful that she’s still around to cook with. But having been on my own with this meal pretty much since I left home nearly forty years, doing it someone else’s way is going to take some adjusting.

There’s just one thing that’ll still have to be my way: scalloped oysters. We never had those growing up, and so far as I can remember, my mother has never made them. But over those four decades that I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving by myself, they’ve been a fixture on my table, and it just wouldn’t be the same without them.

Old-Fashioned Scalloped Oysters

This does have a family connection: it comes from the family that I married into. It’s old school, deeply traditional, and, best of all, quick and easy. It can be served as a first course, but since my father doesn’t like his food, as he would put it, dribbled at him, it’ll be served as a side dish right along with the turkey and dressing.

Serves 8

2 pints standard oysters
2 sleeves saltine crackers (half a 16 ounce box)
½ cup (¼ pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 large eggs
1½ cups light cream
Worcestershire and hot sauce, both to taste

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350° F. Drain the oysters, reserving half a cup of their liquor. Pick through the oysters for bits of shell.

2. Roughly break the crackers into very coarse crumbs. Melt the butter over medium heat in pan large enough to hold cracker crumbs. Add the crumbs and toss until they’ve evenly absorbed the butter and are toasty, about 2 minutes.

3. Lightly butter a 9-inch square baking dish or 10-12-inch oval gratin dish. Sprinkle a fourth of the crumbs over the bottom. Spread half the oysters over the crumbs, season lightly with salt and pepper and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the parsley and a third of the remaining cracker crumbs. Spread the rest of the oysters over the top, lightly season with more salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley and half the remaining crumbs.

3. Whisk together the eggs, cream, and reserved oyster liquor. Season to taste with a few dashes each of Worcestershire and hot sauce and whisk to combine. Pour it evenly over the oysters. Top with the remaining crumbs and bake until lightly browned and set, about 30 minutes.

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