recipe

Credit: Earl Carter

Dark oyster soup

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

This dish is a riff on a classic from the Deep South of America, more specifically the Carolinas, where the oysters are plenty. This dark oyster soup relies heavily on sesame seeds, which came to the southern parts of America from Africa, where they are known as benne. Benne has undergone some change from its original form to make it more suitable for use as oil, and was more commonly used with a brown husk similar to that of rice, prior to polishing. The sesame seed we know today is a more processed product, with a more subtle flavour, that is used in salads, breakfast cereals and many other dishes.

Oysters were once a staple protein, closer to how we use beef today. The very bedrock of Manhattan is oyster shell. And in colonial times and even earlier, Australia has relied upon oysters more than its current use as a delicacy. I love these seemingly humble recipes of stews and soups that depict early life in the regions we now see as cities.

Oyster soup as a meal seems to have fallen out of favour mostly because of a linked perception of harder times. This is similar to the way in which offal has given way to a preference for finer cuts of meat. But there is a particular sense of luxury that comes from oysters infused with the nuttiness of sesame seeds and the beautiful savoury notes of thyme and celery. They elevate it to a truly decadent dish. Served with staples such as steamed rice or crusty bread, a greater lunch I cannot imagine.

Ingredients

Serves 4 as a meal

Time: 1 hour preparation + 30 minutes cooking

  • 24 oysters
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 white onion
  • 100g smoked speck
  • 2 sticks celery
  • ½ bunch thyme
  • 20g sesame seeds
  • 20ml sesame oil
  • 120g butter
  • 300g field mushrooms
  • 100ml dry sherry
  • 700ml chicken stock
  • 60ml cream
  • 50g white rice
  • white pepper
  • 1 bunch chicory (or dandelion)
  • 120ml olive oil
  • sour cream
  • 1 lime
Method
  1. Shuck the oysters (or purchase shucked) and retain the juice.
  2. Peel and slice the garlic and onion finely, reserving a few slices of raw garlic. Slice the speck finely, then render it in a heavy-based pot until it is golden brown and the fat has liquefied.
  3. Add 12 oysters to this fat and sauté until lightly brown. Add the onion and garlic, then cook for a further 10 minutes until lightly brown. Add the chopped celery, thyme, sesame seeds and sesame oil, then the butter and the mushrooms.
  4. Cook until the butter foams, then deglaze with the sherry. Reduce the sherry to a glaze then add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes before adding the cream.
  5. Boil the rice separately, then add to the soup once the rice has cooked through. Bring it all to the boil, then remove from the heat.
  6. Let this rest for 20 minutes before blending with a stick blender until smooth. Adjust the seasoning and add the white pepper.
  7. Bring this soup to the boil after resting it, then add the other 12 oysters until they curl up slightly, showing they are cooked. Remove the 12 oysters with a slotted spoon and reserve for serving. Add any oyster juice that remains and test again for seasoning.
  8. Chop the chicory roughly and place into a pot with the olive oil. Cook over a medium heat until the leaf starts to break down, then season with the slices of raw garlic and some salt.
  9. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the poached oysters. Finish with cracked pepper and serve with sour cream, lime and the braised greens. Serve it over freshly cooked rice as a meal, or simply on its own as a starter.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 25, 2023 as "Shucks, it’s a thriller".

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