I'm about to take an Emeril Lagasse oyster stew recipe prisoner for this communique on why you should always scan recipes for ingredient lists, cooking times and methods, then ignore almost everything they say and just do whatever the fuck you want.
Before this article on 10 ways recipes are undermining your cooking came along I never knew discussing this sort of thing was a thing, but now that it is, hey, let's do this.
The (alleged) ingredients, with notes on what I sub in or out and when in [brackets]
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick), plus 2 tablespoons butter [this is bullshit; you don't need a plop of butter; if anything, it dilutes the finished product]
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour [he adds it at the entirely wrong step in the process]
- 1 cup chopped onions [I sub in shallots or use shallots and onions; sometimes also leeks, bok choy, and/or green onions]
- 1/2 cup chopped celery [completely unnecessary; stew tastes just dandy without it]
- 2 cups milk [makes a thin, runny base. I worked in a restaurant where oyster stew was made with milk, and it was a disaster. I use half cream and half milk or half half-and-half and half milk - just whatever we have on hand]
- Salt and cayenne [go light on the cayenne unless you want a burning tongue; can be skipped altogether; for milder flavor I'll use paprika and only use coarse sea or kosher salt]
- Fresh black pepper [I use this and a peppercorn medley which adds allspice, coriander and All the Pepper Colors]
- 2 dozen oysters, shucked, drained and liquid reserved [works and tastes just fine with half this many but the more, the merrier]
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic [I usually double this and don't chop it, except to get it small enough to mash up in the mortar and pestle]
- 1/4 cup chopped finely chopped parsley [not even needed; tastes better with fresh basil chopped and sprinkled on top - and we grow our own]
The directions, with what I actually do in [brackets]
Oh God help me *drinks an entire liquor store's worth of vodka before going on*
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. [OK, so far I'm just playing along here, and it's fine. This will be the last time you see me this complacent, so enjoy it.]
- Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes. [Nope, nope, NOPE, what the hell is he even doing? I haven't even cooked the veggies yet. NOPE.]
- Add the onions and celery and cook for 2 minutes. [OK, so far I've melted butter and begun cooking shallots and celery, or shallots and onions without celery, or just shallots or onions, or onions, shallots, and celery. Sometimes I'll even throw in some green/orange/red/yellow bell peppers. But I never add flour before cooking the veggies, literally never. And I stir in garlic after the veggies finish cooking but before the next step, heating it no more than 30 seconds to a minute so it won't get bitter.]
- Stir in the milk and oyster liquid. [Nope, nope, NOPE, what the hell is he even doing? This is the part where I finally add the flour! NOPE.]
- Season the mixture with salt, cayenne and black pepper. [Nope, nope, NOPE, I do that only after stirring in the cream and milk, or half-and-half and milk - which I haven't done yet, because I'm still stirring in the flour. NOPE.]
- Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. [This is when I stir in the cream and milk or half-and-half and milk and add the spices, then bring to a simmer for about the suggested time, except sometimes I'll throw the oysters in now as well, but a lot of times I'm drinking or otherwise distracted so I'll forget I could just toss them in now.]
- Add the oysters, garlic and parsley. [Nope, nope, NOPE, I add the garlic after sauteing the veggies, which was many, many steps and often at least one drink or so ago. The oysters might already be curling in the stew at this point, so it's just a matter of tossing parsley or basil in now.]
- Bring the liquid back up to a simmer and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the oysters curl. [Half the time, they've already curled, so I'll skip this and the next step and any subroutines they involve.]
- Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and remove from the heat. [Nope, nope, NOPE, no butter gets added now. Or ever. NOPE.]
- Ladle the soup into the terrine. [We don't have a freakin' terrine, pardon my French, so we just ladle it out of the pot.]
So yeah, sometimes following recipes can suck for some pretty obvious reasons.
But if you can suss out...how do I put this...how to work around them, they can help you by suggesting what I refer to as "flavor profiles" and giving you other ideas to work off of, like rough quantities and approximate cooking times.
To give an example of how I'll (deliberately) mix things up, sometimes I'll make oyster stew by combining Emeril's original recipe with his Creole version (which I think is not his nor truly Creole; if it was truly Creole, then the cayenne would be in it, not in the other recipe). Which means picking ingredients from both lists (but normally I just add bacon and white wine and otherwise keep ingredients and proportions about the same as above) but I use the techniques which I bent to my will in the above recipe to cook the resulting combination.
When I really want to change things up, I'll use ingredients from another recipe altogether, which adds cooked, crumbled sausage into the mix but is otherwise too bland to use in anything other than combination with Emeril's original.
What none of these recipes even hint at? That fresh-squeezed lemon applied at the table makes any oyster stew truly out of this world. And that if the stew comes out a bit on the thin or bland side (using my steps, it shouldn't), a drop or two of Tabasco at the table is a good flavor lift. And to cook oyster stew in a cast iron pan or Dutch oven because nothing else tastes like it...