My friend Sophie’s mother, Lillian, was famous for her deceptively slow-paced, Southern-accented way of talking, and for her oyster patties.
I never understood why these beautiful appetizers were called “patties.” That word brings to mind something served on a sesame seed bun with special sauce and a pickle. Whereas this New Orleans specialty involves whole oysters simmered in a buttery, creamy roux, and tucked into little individual puff pastry shells. They’re a fancy-looking knife-and-fork kind of appetizer.
They don’t actually demand much in the way of ingredients or effort. Especially if you use frozen puff pastry shells. So far, at least, there does not seem to be a run on those. And we have our oysters. Our variety, Crassostrea virginica, are the same Eastern oyster species as the ones down in the gulf. Of course, ours are brought up differently and we are convinced they are better.
Lillian Negueloua was born in New Orleans in 1926. She slyly, I think, kept her accent firmly at hand alongside her Harvard Ph.D. and her 60-year marriage to a literary-minded New Englander, Jim Broderick. She died almost exactly one year ago, but I think if she were with us she would appreciate our having an oyster patty to honor her home town. She would probably not turn down a Sazerac either.
Some versions of the recipe have extras: bacon, thyme, a pinch of cayenne, maybe a drop of Herbsaint. That’s all fine. But the recipe, as Lillian told it, was simpler. And it did not have any amounts assigned to the ingredient list. With all of us living and dining in reduced numbers, I’ve estimated the proper amounts for just a dozen. When this thing is over, you will want to scale up.
Lillian’s Oyster Patties
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
A couple of scallions, chopped
A handful of parsley, chopped
1/2 pint heavy cream, or a bit more
The oyster liquor
Salt and pepper, maybe
12 individual puff pastry shells
Shuck the oysters, setting them in a strainer over a bowl so you can reserve their liquor.
Heat the oven and bake the pastry shells.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt the butter and sauté the scallions and parsley for a minute or so, then whisk in the flour and let the pasty result cook for just a couple of minutes so the flour loses its raw taste. Don’t let it brown — you’re going more for a pale bechamel sauce, not a dark roux.
Thin the roux with the oyster liquor, then begin whisking in the cream. About a cup might do, but you may need more. You want a thick sauce. Correct it for salt and pepper.
At the last minute, slip the oysters into the sauce and watch their edges just begin to curl as they heat through. Scoop the oysters and sauce into the hot, crisped pastry shells and serve.
Do your friends used to keep suggesting dinner at your place? If you’re that kind of cook, why not invite all of us to your table? Send us your favorite recipe. If it’s made with ingredients that are in season here, even better. Something not too complicated. Something with a story to it.
Send to [email protected].