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Teresa Hatchell 2005

Teresa Hatchell

As January gives way to February, there is a popular fundraiser used by many organizations in our great state. I am referring to oyster roasts that draw hundreds to thousands of folks willing to pay good money to pry open, dig out and slurp down roasted oysters.

Several weeks ago, my son Lance helped with The Miracle League for the Pee Dee area, which according to him is an event that draws overwhelming response each year! The Elloree Museum and Cultural Center Annual Oyster Roast is another hugely popular event and Rotary Club oyster roasts happen throughout the state in January and February.

Roasting and steaming are the two easiest ways to cook oysters, but there are a great number of people I know who just eat them raw. My Grandfather Frank was a gourmet cook. He enjoyed oysters tremendously and prepared them many ways. An extensive traveler, Florida was grandfather's home base state, so he feasted often on readily available, fresh seafood. We South Carolinians, too, enjoy an ocean-side location, so we have plentiful seafood year round.

Here are some important guidelines and a few recipes. To make recipe preparations easier, merely select and buy already-shucked pints of medium-size oysters. The medium-size oysters have the most flavor, and they are available in stores during months with the letter 'r' in their names. Oysters should never have any odor other than just a slight whiff of seawater. If they do, please throw them away immediately. That goes for any other shellfish or fish, too.

Among the recipes I am sharing today is a great one for Quick and Easy Oyster Stew. It is a comforting dish that's simple to prepare, yet bursting with incredible flavor -- and it takes no more than 20 minutes to make. There were a few essential rules that I have always adhered to: (1) for best results in all recipes, always use salted butter; (2) if a recipe requires salt, use regular table salt not coarse salt; and (3) there is no substitute for heavy cream when it comes to producing a delicious dish.

As we love our way through February and then transition into March (another great month for oysters), please try one or more of these recipes and share them with friends and family.

Quick and easy

oyster stew

3 tablespoons salted butter

2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced, including both green and white parts

2 small cloves garlic, minced

2 cups milk

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup bourbon

1 cup very rich chicken stock

1-3/4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

2 pints fresh raw medium oysters, plus 1-1/2 cups of their drained juice (called 'liquor')

In a medium-size stockpot over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming has subsided, add the onions and garlic and sauté for three to four minutes until they begin to be translucent. Add the milk, cream, bourbon, chicken stock, salt, white pepper, and oyster liquor. Bring this mixture to a boil for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the oysters. They should "steep" in the hot stock for about three minutes, until they are heated through fully and just begin to curl at the edges. Do not overcook them. Serve this stew immediately. This recipe serves six people.

Oyster pie

2 pints oysters, drained

1 can cream of mushroom or cream of onion soup, your preference

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2 (5-ounce) boxes Oysterette crackers

1 stick of butter, sliced into thin "pats"

Put the soup directly from the can into a bowl. Fill the soup can 3/4 from the top with whole milk. Stir the soup and milk together until the mixture is smooth in consistency. Line a baking dish with a layer of crackers, then a layer of oysters. Repeat, ending with a layer of crackers on top. Pour the soup and milk mixture over the top. Add small pats of butter and sprinkle pepper to suit your taste. Bake the Oyster Pie at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Smoked oyster spread

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons mayonnaise or Miracle Whip, your preference

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Vegetable cooking spray

2 (3.66-ounce) cans smoked oysters, drained and chopped

Garnishes: paprika and/or lemon slices

Combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise or Miracle Whip, Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. Coat a 15-inch-long piece of wax paper with cooking spray. Spread the cream cheese mixture on the paper in a 10-x 6-inch rectangle. Place the chopped oyster pieces evenly over the cheese. Roll this yummy creation up as you would a jellyroll, starting with the long side. Cover the "roll" and chill it. When you are ready to serve this as a "spread," add the garnishes if you opt to use them and serve the spread with bagel chips and/or melba rounds.

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Contact writer at: tgmhatchell@yahoo.com.

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