There is an old myth that says you should only eat raw oysters in months that contain the letter “r” (September through April). I personally feel pretty comfortable eating them year-round, but it is true that oysters, plus other bivalves like clams and mussels, are at their best in the colder months. We have 24 recipes to help you take advantage of peak season, from clam chowder three ways and oyster stew to French- and Thai-inspired steamed mussels.
Clams casino is often disappointingly bland—our recipe builds tons of flavor by cooking the clams’ juices down into a bacon-clam compound butter and topping the stuffed shells with bacon bread crumbs. Make sure to use coarse bread crumbs like panko, because finer ones will take on a texture somewhere between wet sand and soggy bread pulp.
Many New England clam chowder recipes use a flour-based roux as a thickener, which can make the chowder unpleasantly heavy. We use potatoes instead, which gives the chowder a lighter (but still plenty rich) texture. Without a roux the chowder is going to break, but a quick trip to the blender will bring it back together.
New England has the most famous clam chowder, but it’s not the only kind worth considering. Rhode Island clam chowder is made without any dairy, which lets the briny flavor of the clams shine. We have no problem making New England–style clam chowder with canned or frozen bivalves, but here you’re going to want the more intense flavor of live ones.
While miso soup almost always starts with a dashi made with bonito flakes, this version from Manhattan’s EN Japanese Brasserie uses asari (Manila clams) instead. The brininess of the clams is perfectly complemented by the funky miso (a mix of light and dark) and vegetal kombu.
Cooking fish à la nage is a versatile technique that involves poaching it in a flavorful broth. We have recipes featuring salmon and cod, but my favorite is this simple dish of halibut and clams cooked with white wine, fennel, and dill. As the clams open they release their juices, giving the broth a delicately briny flavor.
Spaghetti alle vongole is an Italian classic made with garlic, briny clams, white wine, and chili flakes. The dish can be made with or without tomatoes—here we are tackling the tomato-free (in bianco) version. One of our least favorite things about spaghetti alle vongole is dealing with the shells, so we shuck most of the clams before serving.
Created as part of a Korean-inspired twist on spaghetti alle vongole, this clam sauce is made with gochujang, kimchi, nori, and fried onions, garlic, and shallots. The fried alliums are easy to find at Asian groceries, but you can also make them at home.
Most of the famous New Haven pizzerias have started using preshucked clams, but at home, we recommend using fresh ones—the clams will come out more tender and the pizza will have a better flavor. Beyond the clams, we keep this pizza simple: mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic, basil, and chili flakes.
When you can’t be bothered to wait for your oven to preheat, these broiled clams with tomatoes, butter, and tarragon hit the spot. The broiler’s intense heat browns garlic, bursts sweet cherry tomatoes, and cooks briny clams until they pop open. The result is a flavorful and comforting meal, ready in 20 minutes.
This clam chowder ditches the more traditional Manila clams and onions in favor of Pacific razor clams and buttery leeks. Using fresh thyme, dry vermouth, and a splash of cream keeps this chowder light, fresh, and just rich enough.
I always think it’s a shame to cook oysters when they are so good raw. Oysters on the halfshell without any accoutrements are already just about perfect, but if you want to add something extra, try serving them with this malty stout granita. We like Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, but any good stout or porter is fine.
If you’re going to cook your oysters, one of the simplest and most delicious methods is to grill them with compound butter—we’ve got Parmesan-basil and kimchi varieties for you to try. The flavored butters don’t overpower the oysters, but they do soften their flavor enough to make this a great dish for oyster novices.
Oysters Rockefeller is a classic appetizer made by baking oysters with wilted spinach, Parmesan cheese, garlic, butter, wine, and crunchy breadcrumbs. The secret ingredient is a drizzle of Pernod, which lends the dish a subtle anise aroma.
Oysters Florentine keeps the spinach, Parmesan, white wine, and bread crumbs from oysters Rockefeller and adds cream for extra richness. The spinach topping can be made a day ahead and spooned onto the oysters just before cooking, making this a great dish for entertaining.
Despite the name, oyster stew is more of a soup—it only takes 20 minutes from start to finish and, thanks to the lack of any flour or pork fat, it has a light, clean flavor. Don’t worry, though—whole milk and butter ensure the dish is comfortingly rich.
Stuffing rarely makes appearances on the dinner table outside of Thanksgiving, but I see no reason not to eat it year-round. My favorite stuffings are made with oysters, which amp up the savoriness of the dish (much like fish sauce or anchovies) without making it overly fishy. Here we use oysters in a sausage stuffing flavored with fennel and tarragon.
Oysters are just as good in cornbread dressings as in white-bread stuffings. Don’t bother shucking fresh oysters for these two recipes—once you’ve mixed them with the bread, sausage, fennel, and other ingredients you won’t be able to taste the difference between fresh oysters and the preshucked ones you find in pop-top cans.
We’ve slightly reimagined this decadent New Orleans classic. The spinach that often tops each oyster is set aside, replaced by a combination of bright, fresh herbs. Broiling instead of baking the oysters gives them a lovely browned top without overcooking.
This bright riff on oysters Rockefeller takes inspiration from Mexican rajas. The often-underwhelming combination of wilted spinach and heavy cream is switched out for roasted poblano peppers, Mexican crema, and fresh cilantro.
Steamed mussels are an under-appreciated weeknight dinner—they are fast, inexpensive, and versatile. My favorite preparation is moules marinières, which uses a cider-based broth thickened with butter (the more traditional option) or garlicky aioli (not traditional but totally delicious). Don’t forget to pick up a loaf of crusty bread to dip into the broth.
As a testament to the versatility of steamed mussels, this recipe moves to the other side of the world for inspiration. The technique is basically the same, but we make the broth with coconut milk and flavor it with fish sauce, sliced chilies, brown sugar, and homemade curry paste.
Moving back to France, this recipe is inspired by the Provençal stew bouillabaisse. We incorporate anise flavors three ways: fresh fennel, fennel-flavored dry salami, and a shot of Pernod. Don’t skip the saffron—I know it’s expensive, but you only need a pinch and it adds a wonderful complexity to the dish.
The only trouble with serving steamed mussels as a dinner is that it’s a pretty light meal unless you eat a lot of bread (which, to be fair, I am happy to do). This recipe adds bulk without turning to carbs by cooking the mussels with peppers, chard, and tomato. If you’re into spice, then a dash of cayenne or chili flakes would be very much at home here.
We return to Thailand for this recipe, flavoring mussels with red curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. For a full meal, serve the mussels atop rice vermicelli, which can be prepared by soaking in hot water and therefore keeps the meal super simple.
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