“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, ‘A Moveable Feast’
Born into a family of food lovers, I never had the option to be a picky eater, it would have been met with suspicion. Both my grandmothers had a way in the kitchen, and the wife of the family I worked for out of college, all preparing foods with ease and simplicity. As a young girl and grown woman, I learned to cook from the women that surrounded me.
I tried oysters for the first time as a teenager. Sitting across from a platter of them, at a beach house table, I looked at their shiny opulence with general mistrust and hesitancy. Once I slurped one down, others soon followed.
In my own home we eat simply and well, with shellfish from local fishermen, bread from artisan bakers, and vegetables grown in the garden. Meals are crafted with love and flavor, and usually involve a good bottle of wine in the process. Saturdays trip to the farmer’s market resulted in the most beautiful oyster stuffing. Using Penn Cove oysters, a bounty of onions, carrots, and celery, foraged mushrooms, and fresh bread, this coastal recipe brought about the greatest of pleasures.
Penn Cove Oyster Stuffing // serves 12
1 large loaf french bread, about 1 pound, cut into 3/4″ cubes (I used Essential Baking Pugliese)
1/2 lb bacon, cut into 1/2″pieces
2 cups Shiitake mushrooms, caps removed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled, quartered, and diced
1 1/2 cups celery, diced
3 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 dozen large Penn Cove Oysters, shucked, drained, and chopped (see below for easy handling)
1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
Preheat oven to 325*
Slice bread into 1″ cubes. In a shallow baking pan, spread the bread cubes evenly and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool, then transfer to a large bowl.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat cook bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel to drain, reserving fat in the skillet.
Add shiitake mushrooms and cook about 5-7 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside. Add oil, diced onions, carrots, celery, thyme, sage, garlic, salt and pepper back to the skillet and cook over medium heat about 10 minutes until vegetables are softened.
In a large mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs, bacon, shiitake mushrooms, vegetable mixture, parsley, butter, and oysters. Drizzle lightly with stock. Transfer to a 3 1/2 quart shallow baking dish. Bake, covered, on middle rack of the oven 30 minutes. Uncover and bake about 30 more minutes.
Stuffing can be assembled (without the oysters and not baked) 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature and stir in oysters before baking.
*Simple Oyster preparation:
Preheat oven to 400*
Bake cup side up about 20 minutes
Remove from oven, crack the shell, and remove the meat.