This is Matt and this is one of the many reasons I love him. He tackled the Christmas tree like a challenge and presented it to me in all of its fully-executed glory. It served us quite well. But a few days ago, the tree was looking less-than-healthy and ready to be excused. Against tradition (I have no childhood memories of taking the ornaments off the tree.), we de-trimmed it together. And that’s when I realized that the ball ornaments he’d bought to decorate our first tree were plastic. I don’t know why this surprised me so much except for the fact that growing up, all of our ball ornaments were made of glass. In Matt’s defense: “I don’t know. I had a couple of hours to decorate an enormous tree and Target was selling this giant box of ornaments.”
I wish I had photos of us getting this tree out of the back door of our apartment. Branches were snapping left and right, and when it was finally out, our kitchen had become a spitting image of Sherwood Forest. (I watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves recently.) Once it was outside, we were faced with another challenge. What do you do with a Christmas tree when you’re done with it? In the suburbs where my parents live, I faintly remember a “Tree pick-up day” or something like that. Well, sans Googling/knowledge of our community’s tree removal services/policies, we took it to the dumpster where we take our regular trash, which is located in an alley behind our unit’s garages, which serves, along with the alley itself, as a bit of a magnet to members of West Hollywood’s homeless population. Once in the alley, instead of tossing the tree inside one of the dumpsters, we propped it up against the wall on the opposite side of the alley. Please forgive us if this is your Christmas pet peeve. In the morning, it was New Year’s Eve, and I had an 8am spinning class to attend. I opened the garage door and reversed the car to find our large Christmas tree still propped against the wall, only now it was thoughtfully decorated with purple ornaments very similar to the ones Matt had bought.
I called Matt to tell him, and he divulged that the previous night he had also thrown away some of the excess ornaments, the bulk of which were purple. In Matt’s defense: “There were just so many of them.” And so, we theorized that while we slept, a homeless person went through the dumpster, found the ornaments, and trimmed the tree.
I don’t know why exactly I’m telling you this story. I can’t find a way to tie it into the delicious oyster stew I made. I can’t even tie it into a way of summing up 2011 and wishing you a happy 2012. All I can say is that it seemed like a story worth sharing and is one I keep thinking about.
Okay. I bought 10 oysters for Christmas Day without knowing what I was going to do with them. So, on Christmas Eve, when I opened my Hanukkah gift from my brother and sister-in-law and found Cooking in the Moment, and soon thereafter found Andrea Reusing’s uber simple oyster stew recipe, our Christmas dinner appetizer was born.
After this step, things get easier. You simmer some cream, add a pinch of cayenne and a bit of salt and pepper. Next, you add the sea-salty oyster liquor, bring it to a simmer again, and then add the oysters for about 30 seconds. You divide this into warm bowls where a softened tablespoon of butter awaits, and voila, a decadent oyster stew. But wait, I didn’t stop there. While Matt shucked a few oysters, I boiled some potatoes that I had on hand. And while the cream was simmering, I drained and mashed them with just a bit of butter and milk. And then, after I’d eaten the oysters out of my stew and had nothing left but the delicious, creamy, slightly spicy broth, I poured it over the potatoes, and the result was over-the-top amazing. Seriously, if I had a restaurant, mashed potatoes with creamy oyster broth would be on the menu. And the restaurant would be called: Amelia’s Fish Wish. (Kidding about the latter. Very serious about the former.)
Oyster Stew with Mashed Potatoes
serves 24-5 small to medium Yukon gold potatoes
10 oysters, freshly shucked, still in the shell with the liquor reserved
1 cup half and half
3 tablespoons butter at room temperature, divided
¼ teaspoon kosher salt + more for the potatoes
Pinch of cayenne
Freshly ground black pepper
Wash and scrub the potatoes, and then place them in a large stockpot. Cover them with water and a pinch of salt. Bring the pot to a boil. Boil the potatoes until fork tender. (I just keep checking on them with a fork after about 10 minutes.) Once they’re tender, drain and return them to the hot pot. Mash the potatoes up with a scant ¼ cup of the half and half, 1 tablespoon of the butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot with a lid to keep the potatoes warm while you make the stew.
Scoop out the oysters from the shell over a strainer, making sure to catch the liquor in a bowl underneath. While the oysters are in the strainer, you may also want to check them for any remaining shell fragments before placing them in a prep bowl.
Heat ¾ cup of the half and half in a heavy nonreactive pot to a low simmer over medium heat, careful not to let it scorch. In the meantime, warm two small bowls, perhaps in your toaster oven. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to each bowl, and set them in a warm spot.
Season the cream with the salt, cayenne, and black pepper. Add the oyster liquor and return to a simmer. Add the oysters and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until they are just heated through. Adjust the seasoning, and divide the oysters and sauce among the warm bowls with the butter. Serve alongside two small bowls of the mashed potatoes, spooning the potatoes into the stew or vice versa, whenever it strikes your fancy.