March 17, 2011

Meatless Meals: Oysters in Cream with Leeks

The best thing we got from our CSA was local Rappahannock River Oysters.  A pint of them.  In their own liquor, jarred and already shucked.  We were thrilled, and after sorting through a bunch of recipes, I settled on one from last year's Edible cookbook: A Spring Pan Roast of Oysters.  Originally from the Edible Piedmont magazine, it seemed every thing an early spring dish ought to be: rich and filling without being too heavy.

Not too heavy, she says, scanning over the ingredient list and seeing a whole pint of heavy cream.  It truly isn't rich. It really was a revelation of flavors and texture.  The cream is cooked down till it is very thick, but then it is added to the oysters/their liquor, and white wine.  Simmers just a bit longer, it is thoroughly emulsified, and rendered light, smooth, subtle, transformed, sublime. I don't want to see any flour or cheese ruining its delicate intensity, kids.   

Here is my adaptation.  The original meal is a 3 pot dish, plus it asked you to blanch the leeks and then stick them in an ice bath, which, frankly, is way too much trouble for me.  I sautéed them lightly.  Have all your ingredients ready and prepped, so that you can basically do all four steps in quick progressions--letting the pasta water boil and cook while reducing the cream, and once the cream is going, taking care of the leeks and oysters, so that everything is ready at once.

The original recipe also recommended serving over spinach cut into a chiffonade, but we didn't have any spinach, so we served it over beautiful Italian handmade pasta, but it would have been equally good with a thick hunk of crusty bread to sop up all the delicious sauce.  A light salad with lemon vinaigrette on the side suited perfectly--crisp and bright, tantalizing to the palate.

+ 1 lb well made dried pasta--you want something shaped (as opposed to spaghetti) but not small: a large shell, or campanelle or a hearty fussili
+ 1 cup heavy cream

+ 1 spring fresh thyme
+ 2 leeks, white parts only, well cleaned and thinly sliced 
or 4 shallots, minced
+ 2 tbs butter
+ 2 tbs dry white wine or vermouth
+ 1 pint shucked oysters and their liquor

In a large pasta pot boil salted water on high, and when boiling add pasta.  Cook till al dente, and drain.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan simmer over medium heat the heavy cream and thyme.  Reduce the heat if necessary to prevent boiling over, and simmer till thick, reduced in volume by half (25-35 minutes).  Remove the thyme and set aside.

While the cream is reducing and the pasta is cooking, in a large sauté pan (with sides), lightly sauté the leeks with a bit of olive oil till translucent (do not brown).  Set aside.

In the same pan as you cooked the leeks, heat the butter with the white wine on medium high for about 2 minutes. Stir in the leeks, and oysters with their liquor. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until the oysters begin to curl, approximately 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the thickened cream and cook until it is just warmed and emulsified--no more than 2 minutes.

Serve over drained pasta. Serves 4 as main dish.

Variation: Oysters and leeks and cream go really well with mushrooms.  If you like, add 1/4 to 1/2 lb mushrooms to the butter and white wine and sauté for 2 minutes before adding the oysters.


  1. this sounds amazing! wow. I will have to be bold and try this. Maybe this could be one of those things I have never done before: cooking with oysters! so fun. thanks!

  2. Oh! it is so good. And by the time November rolls around, it will be Oyster season again. I am going to try it with (good) canned oysters, too. And with clams. Just to see.