Oyster stew is a New England classic and a natural first course for an old-fashioned standing rib roast Christmas dinner. If you are rushed, look for freshly shucked oysters packed in their own liquor. They are sold in jars at most fish markets.
36 oysters in the shell
6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
6 green onions, white and light green portions, chopped
1/2 cup dry vermouth
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Sweet Hungarian paprika for garnish
2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Scrub the oysters with a stiff brush, then rinse well under running cold water. Working with 1 oyster at a time, use a thick folded cloth to hold the oyster in one hand, with the flat top shell facing up. Using an oyster knife in the other hand, insert its tip between the shells near the hinge of the oyster. Twist the knife—it may take a bit of strength—to break the hinge. Run the knife along the inside surface of the top shell to loosen the oyster from it. Lift off and discard the top shell. Drain the liquor from the bottom shell into a bowl. Run the knife along the inside surface of the bottom shell to sever the muscle that attaches the shell to the oyster, and place the oyster in a separate bowl. Repeat with the remaining oysters. Set the oyster liquor and oysters aside.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the green onions and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Pour in the vermouth and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in the milk, cream and reserved oyster liquor and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add the oysters and cook until they are opaque and the edges start to curl, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt.
Ladle the stew into warmed soup bowls and garnish each serving with a grind of pepper and a sprinkle each of paprika and parsley. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Entertaining, by George Dolese (Oxmoor House, 2004).