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Oyster Chowder: An Oyster Lover’s Delight

Chowders

Oyster chowder is like a dear friend with a lavish lifestyle. You may have to keep your distance most of the time, but on occasion, it’s totally worth it to shell out some cash and indulge. Although oysters are not cheap these days, it’s one of those rare seafood chowder recipes that everyone should try at least once, especially if you consider yourself an oyster connoisseur.

While it bears a resemblance to the more famous New England clam chowder, it has a personality all its own, salty, briny, and oh-so oystery. That said, unlike the bold flavors of clam chowder, oyster chowder is a little more muted albeit nonetheless delicious.

oyster chowder

So as not to overpower the flavor of the oysters, this oyster chowder recipe uses butter instead of bacon, leeks instead of onions, fennel instead of celery, and some lemon zest. It also includes spinach. Seek out baby spinach if possible. It’s more tender and has sweeter leaves than regular spinach. But regular spinach is OK too.

Oyster Chowder vs Oyster Stew

You might be wondering what the difference is because oyster stew is much more popular, at least historically speaking. Though it’s gone out of fashion (probably because oysters are much more expensive today), many people still make it at home. Oyster stew is a more simple type of soup than oyster chowder. And yes, it is a soup, despite its name. Ironically, chowder is really more like a stew.

Semantics aside, oyster stew is made with only a handful of ingredients, typically oysters, cream or milk, onions, and a few seasonings. Oyster chowder is a bit heartier and typically includes heavy cream, potatoes, bacon (though I substitute butter), and some other root vegetables.

Both are fantastic in their own way! Both are also included in my cookbook, New England Soups from the Sea, as well as oyster soup recipes for Oyster Bisque, Oyster Marniere Soup, Oyster Rockefeller Soup, and Oysters Bienville Soup. It also includes a chapter devoted to the many types of chowder in New England with 18 total seafood chowder recipes!

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Fresh Oysters vs Canned Oysters

Of course, canned oysters are more convenient. If you live inland and just can’t get fresh oysters, then canned is OK. But this recipe is really intended to be made with fresh, briny Eastern oysters from the Atlantic Ocean, which are renowned for their sea salty flavor. This flavor comes from not just the oyster meats but also something else.

Oyster Liquor: The Real Key to Oyster Chowder

No, unfortunately, not that type of liquor. Oyster liquor is just another name for the natural juices that are contained within the oyster shell. This ultra-concentrated, super-flavorful liquor is part of what makes raw oysters on the half-shell so widely appealing. It’s also the key ingredient in oyster stew and of course, oyster chowder too.

This means you have to shuck fresh oysters and save every little drop of that beautiful briny liquor that resides inside the shells. Yes, it’s a little more work but that liquor will infuse the chowder with more oyster flavor than the oyster themselves.

How to Shuck Oysters

If you’ve never done it before, it takes a little getting used to. But once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty simple. Check out this short 60-second video for how to do it. Be sure to notice all that beautiful oyster liquor once the chef opens the shell!

Making the Oyster Chowder Broth

This oyster chowder recipe requires a full quart of broth but the oyster liquor itself will only yield about a 1/2 to 1 cup. So we have to add some liquid. This can be a little tricky because we don’t want to dilute the oyster liquor too much. Also, the salinity and volume of oyster liquor can be highly variable depending on the type of oysters you purchase and the time of year they’re harvested.

My biggest piece of advice is to simply adjust things according to your desired taste. Start out by adding your reserved oyster liquor to fish stock or water to make 2 cups total. Taste it and then you’ll get a sense of what type of additional liquid you should add. I like to keep a strong briny flavor and will most often add 1 to 2 more cups of bottled clam juice. You might choose fish broth or water instead. It’s totally up to you. Trust your taste buds!

oyster chowder with spinach pin

How to Make Oyster Chowder with Spinach

Step 1. Shuck the oysters and reserve the liquor.

You’ll need about 3 dozen fresh oysters. Make sure to catch all the juices when you shuck the oysters. You should get about 1/2 to 1 cup of oyster liquor. Take the liquor and add it to fish stock or water to make 2 cups total. Taste it and add 1 to 2 more cups of fish stock, water, or clam broth to make 3 to 4 cups of broth. Set the broth aside.

Step 2. Saute the veggies in butter

Melt butter over medium heat and saute one diced leek and one diced fennel bulb for about 7-10 minutes until softened and fragrant. Add a few cloves of diced garlic in the last few minutes.

Step 3. Add the broth

Raise the heat and bring it to a boil.

Step 4. Add potatoes and lemon zest.

Roughly chop about one pound of potatoes into bite-sized cubes. Zest the lemon peel from one whole lemon. Add them to the broth. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

Step 5. Add heavy cream

Add 1 cup heavy cream and taste. Add up to one more cup of heavy cream, to desired taste.

Step 6. Add the spinach

Add 8 ounces of spinach and gently stir it in. Simmer for just a minute or two until the spinach wilts.

Step 7. Add the oysters

Add the oysters and simmer until the edges curl about 2 to 3 more minutes.

Step. 8. Add optional seasonings, to taste

Ladle into individual bowls and add optional seasonings, to taste, such as freshly ground black pepper, fresh chives, oyster crackers, hot sauce, and/or a squeeze of lemon.

oyster chowder with spinach

Oyster Chowder with Spinach

Though similar to clam chowder, oyster chowder has a personality all its own, salty, briny, and oh-so oystery. That said, unlike the bold flavors of clam chowder, oyster chowder is a little more muted albeit nonetheless delicious!
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
CourseAppetizer, Main Course
CuisineAmerican
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Servings6 servings
Calories291kcal
AuthorCraig Fear
Cost$45

Ingredients

  • 3 dozen oysters shucked, liquor reserved
  • 1 – 1 ½ cups fish stock or water
  • 1 – 2 more cups fish stock or clam broth or water
  • 3 TBSPs butter unsalted
  • 1 medium leek white part only, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb diced
  • 2 cloves garlic diced
  • 3-4 cups broth
  • 1 pound potatoes roughly cut into small cubes
  • 1 lemon zest from one lemon, optional
  • 1 – 2 cups heavy cream or half and half
  • 8 ounces baby spinach thicker stems discarded

Optional seasonings, to taste

  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Fresh chives chopped
  • Fresh parsley chopped
  • Lemon wedges
  • Tabasco or hot sauce of your choice
  • Oyster crackers or crackers of your choice

Instructions

  • Shuck the oysters and reserve the liquor. You should get about 1/2 to 1 cup.Take the liquor and add it to fish stock or water to make 2 cups total. Taste it and add 1 to 2 more cups of fish stock, water or clam broth to make 3 to 4 cups of broth. Set the broth aside.
  • Melt butter over medium heat and saute leek and fennel for about 7 to 10 minutes until softened and fragrant. Add garlic in the last few minutes.
  • Add broth and bring it to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat and add potatoes and lemon zest. Cover and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.
  • Add 1 cup heavy cream and taste. Add up to one more cup of heavy cream, to desired taste.
  • Add the spinach and gently stir it in. Simmer just a minute or two until the spinach wilts.
  • Add the oysters and simmer until the edges curl, about 2 to 3 more minutes.
  • Ladle into individual bowls and add optional seasonings, to taste.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 291kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 60mg | Sodium: 779mg | Potassium: 816mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 4857IU | Vitamin C: 34mg | Calcium: 124mg | Iron: 2mg
Fearless Eating may receive commissions from purchases made through links in this article. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. More info here.
Oyster Chowder: An Oyster Lover\'s Delight
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About the Author

Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.

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