Related: Our Favorite Spots for Oysters
“The harder you have to work for something, the better it is,” Jamie Leeds says about oysters as we stand in front of the seafood counter.
But then Leeds offers up a better pearl, explaining that if you call ahead or if grocers aren’t busy, they’ll usually shuck the oysters for you. So, with someone else prying open our oysters, we pick up the rest of the supplies: a leek, celery root, potatoes, beets, arugula, milk, and wine.
The chef/owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar accepted our Frugal Foodie challenge—cook an oyster dinner for six for less than $50, not including pantry items. With that budget in mind, Leeds watches closely at the checkout to make sure each item is rung up correctly, happily catching errors that work in her favor.
Back at my apartment, Leeds chops the vegetables while I grill her about all the different ways to eat oysters. Raw, fried, barbecued, roasted under the broiler, in a bread pudding, and topped with Tabasco, breadcrumbs, butter and garlic.
On this chilly January day, Leeds has decided on an oyster stew. She tosses the leek and celery into a large saucepan and lets it simmer before adding potatoes and celery root. She adds wine, parsley, a little flour, and then tops it all off with milk. While the stew simmers, she puts together a golden-beet salad.
I ask Leeds about the saying that you should only eat oysters in months that have the letter R in them. She explains that this is a bit of a fallacy now. Oysters spawn during the warmer months—ones without an R—and they develop a milky texture, which is why they’re considered a cold-weather food. But now, oysters are farmed and they can induce spawning at different times of the year.
Once the vegetables have cooked through, Leeds brings the stew up to a boil. When it starts to bubble, she adds the oysters and cooks everything for a minute more. Then she dishes up the rich stew and sprinkles a little paprika and parsley on top.
Leeds may be right about the “harder you work for something, the better it is” lesson. But this dinner doesn’t take much work at all—and it’s still delicious.
Recipes serve six.
1 bunch golden beets
1 cup olive oil
½ lemon, juiced
1 bunch arugula
Salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan, cover the beets with water and salt liberally. Cook over medium-high heat until they are soft, about 20 minutes.
Cool the beets in an ice bath. Remove their peels and slice in half.
Peel the grapefruit and slice. Reserve any juice.
Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, ½ teaspoon of pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Toss the arugula in the dressing. Season the salad to taste. Top with grapefruit and beets.
1 leek, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1 celery stalk, medium diced
3 potatoes, peeled and medium diced
1 celery root, peeled and medium diced
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups white wine
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
½ bunch parsley, chopped
½ gallon milk
2 dozen fresh oysters, shucked
Paprika to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the leeks in a bowl of water to remove their dirt. Strain the leeks by pulling them out with your hands so any sediment stays at the bottom of the bowl.
Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Add the leeks and celery. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes and celery root. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the flour and cook for 10 minutes more. Add the wine, thyme, and parsley. Cook another 10 minutes so the flavors blend. Add enough milk to cover the vegetables. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Bring the stew to a boil. Add the oysters and cook 1 minute.
Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and paprika.