This soup is tied to one of my earliest cooking disasters. One day while I was in the seventh grade home alone and bored, I decided to make–or attempt to make–Oyster and Artichoke Soup. I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t even think to ask for help or search for a recipe (which at that time would have been limited to my mom’s red accordion recipe file and a couple of regional cookbooks). My only points of reference were a flavor memory I had banked from a local restaurant meal and the title of that menu item. But I was 12, remember? Little Miss Know-It-All!
I took my confidence to the kitchen and filled an obscenely large pot with water. While the water was climbing to a boil, I chopped up one onion and a can of artichoke hearts. I tossed those in the pot, lowered the fire and plopped in the oysters one by one. After 30 minutes or so had passed (yes, 30 minutes for what was probably less than a pint of oysters my mom obviously had other plans for), I seasoned the mixture with a scant amount of salt and pepper and, boom! Soup was on. Or so I thought. I proudly ladled a small amount into a coffee mug and scooped out a large spoonful. It was brothy and not creamy like I had recalled. The musty aroma was off too. And the taste? Downright awful! Somewhat salty, somewhat sandy and a lot chewy! Tasting that soup was like taking in a large gulp of Gulf water following an unexpected wave on a hot summer’s day. Yuck! I was so disgusted that I didn’t even consider trying to salvage it. My only thought at that point was to get rid of the evidence. Trouble was, I didn’t know how. We didn’t have a garbage disposal back then. And while I knew enough not to pour hot liquids into a plastic garbage bag, it didn’t dawn on me to strain the solids. So I awkwardly carried the hot pot to the front yard, dug a shallow hole and poured away! That’s right. I buried the goods. How’s that for a Little Miss Know-It-All?
Fortunately, the journey to now has been a good one regarding cooking and my Oyster and Artichoke Soup. I understand and appreciate the power of a good recipe, have purchased a house with a garbage disposal-equipped kitchen (mom has one too now) and I can pretty much rescue any recipe from disaster.
Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
1 pint oysters (in oyster liquor)
4 cups chicken stock or broth
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon Lea & Perrins (Worcestershire sauce)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and black pepper to taste
Strain oysters over a bowl to remove grit and separate them from the oyster liquor; reserve liquor. Chop oysters, cover and refrigerate until needed. Measure oyster liquor and add enough chicken stock to make 4 cups; set aside. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Gradually whisk in flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until a blond roux is achieved. Add onions and green onions; cook, whisking constantly, until tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and artichoke hearts; cook an 2 additional minutes. Gradually whisk in reserved oyster liquor and chicken stock. Add Lea & Perrins, thyme and cayenne pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add chopped oysters and simmer until oysters are cooked through and edges curl, about 5 minutes. Stir in heavy cream and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.