Oyster dressings, stuffings and sauces have been a part of New England cuisine since the first colonists walked the shores, due to the abundance of American oysters (Crassostrea virginica) in the bays and estuaries off the coastline of Virginia, Massachusetts and Maine.
By the 17th century, directions for stuffing fowl with oysters appeared in cookery books across Europe, including the 1683 Dutch book The Sensible Cook. While the oyster enjoyed elite status in many parts of Europe, the cultivation of oysters in New England led to its every-day appearance on the table of the common colonist so that by the 18th century, the “urban poor were sustained by little more than bread and oysters” making the mollusk a particularly useful and “economical ingredient for stuffing fowl” according to John F. Mariani in the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.
Oyster stuffings, or dressings as they are sometimes called, feature prominently in menus of coastal communities, particularly among New Englanders, coastal Southerners and among Pacific Northwest islanders. Northern stuffing recipes typically use a white-bread base, while southern variations start with cornbread. This recipe for holiday oyster stuffing is prepared in the style of Colonial New England
Holiday Oyster Stuffing and Dressing Recipe
- 2 oz unsalted butter
- 6 generous cups bread cubes, preferably French or Italian, crusts removed
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 oz fresh or jarred oysters
- 1/2 cup chicken or turkey stock
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbsp chervil (or parsley) dried
- 1 tsp celery salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- Preheat oven to 350F. Spread bread cubes on a flat baking sheet and toast for five minutes on each side.
- Meanwhile, drain (if jarred), rinse and pay dry oysters, then chop into ½” pieces.
- In a large skillet, melt butter on medium heat. Add in diced onion and sauté until translucent.
- Add white wine, chicken stock and bay leaf to onions and continue to simmer for 10 minutes until broth has started reducing. Add chopped raw oysters to skillet during the last five minutes, stirring once to ensure even cooking.
- Remove bay leaf from skillet. In large bowl, combine oyster broth mix to toasted bread crumbs. Stir in chervil, celery salt and black pepper. Add in beaten egg and still well until thoroughly coated.
- Pour into a 9×9” baking dish, cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until top begins to brown and crisp.
Oyster stuffing remains a popular side dish at holiday meals and is frequently served outside the roast turkey or goose. Other traditional holiday recipes include hot buttered rum and homemade cranberry sauce.