Typically, oyster soup would have been served at Mount Vernon during the winter, when the oysters were not only firm and especially flavorful but also when they could easily be kept fresh and cold. Oysters were abundant in the Potomac River; they could also be purchased in quantity from nearby markets.
Delicately flavored with herbs, this creamy soup recipe is adapted from one in Eliza Leslie's Seventy-five Receipts by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book Dining with the Washingtons.
1 pint oysters in their liquor
3 slices bacon
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried chervil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
11/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
Minced fresh parsley for garnish
- Place the oysters in a strainer set over a large bowl and drain thoroughly, reserving the liquor.
- In a large saucepan, fry the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels, crumble into pieces, and set aside. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat. Add the onion, and saute until softened and just beginning to brown.
- Blend the flour and butter together to form a paste. Stir into the sauteed onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted and the onion is well-coated.
- Measure the oyster liquor, and, if necessary, add enough water to make 1/2 cup. Stir into the sauteed onion along with the marjoram, thyme, chervil, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is slightly thickened.
- Gradually blend in the milk and cream, stirring continuously until the mixture is steaming and comes just below a boil.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir together the egg yolks and about 1 cup of the hot liquid, stirring constantly to prevent the yolks from curdling. Gradually blend the egg yolks into the onion mixture and cook, stirring constantly until the soup barely begins to simmer. Again, do not allow the soup to boil, or the egg yolks will curdle.
- Add the oysters to the soup and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, just until they are nicely plumped and heated through. Season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.
- To serve, pour the soup into a tureen, sprinkle with the reserved bacon, and garnish with minced parsley.
1 1/2 to 2 quarts
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