Oyster stuffing. I don’t know that you’ll find a dish more unanimously found on Thanksgiving tables here on the Eastern Shore. After a quick web search, it turns out it’s common in many other parts of the country as well – but especially down south around the Gulf, and up north around New England.
It’s basically a homemade stuffing – composed of dry bread cubes, sauteed onions and herbs, chicken stock, and fresh oysters. Some people used canned or smoked oysters – but, I can’t justify using those. Ever. Ain’t nobody got time for that! The oysters plump up in the stuffing, and release their delicious briny juices – adding a ton of flavor to the stuffing, and the bread just soaks it all right up! I loved the addition of nutmeg and clove too, it really made it taste like Thanksgiving.
This was actually my first time making this dish (hey, I am a “come here” after all!) and as I mixed it up before putting it in the casserole dish, I thought it wasn’t going to be something I enjoyed…as it wasn’t much to look at. But when it came out of the oven, and the top was nice and brown – I couldn’t wait to dig in! If you’re looking for something special to add to your Thanksgiving Day table, which is a cut above the standard cornbread stuffing (or my favorite, even though I’m ashamed to admit it – Stove Top!) get yourself a pint of oysters from the seafood market and make this stuffing. Maybe it will become a tradition for your family, as it has for so many others here on the Eastern Shore and elsewhere, on Turkey Day!
6 cups 1/2-inch cubed French bread
3 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
3 Tbsp butter, melted,
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 ribs celery, finely diced
3/4 pint shucked oysters, liquid reserved
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp. madeira or port
3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh sage, chopped
1/4 tsp hot sauce
pinch ground nutmeg
small pinch ground cloves
freshly ground black pepper
Heat oven to 250 degrees. Arrange bread cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake, stirring occasionally, until dried but not browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
Put bacon into a 12″ skillet; cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until crisp and its fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. Add butter and heat. Add onions and celery, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add reserved liquid from oysters, stock, madeira or port, parsley, thyme, sage, hot sauce, nutmeg, cloves, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the bread cubes and oysters. Set aside to allow the flavors to come together for 10 minutes.
Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Transfer mixture to a buttered 2-qt. oval baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, remove foil, drizzle with remaining butter, and continue baking until golden brown and crusty, about 15 minutes more. Serve immediately.
Source: adapted from Saveur, October 2008