Sean Brock's dedication to preserving and restoring heirloom ingredients makes him one of the more admirable and interesting chefs today. His approach to cooking is thoughtful, which is palpable in the flavors that he brings together in his finished dishes.
For this oyster stew, Brock goes back to his Southern roots by using benne seeds, an ingredient that slowly disappeared in the 20th century after sesame was mass-produced for oil production. The seeds are used as a garnish, while the flour (made as the by-product of pressing the benne seed for oil) is used to thicken the stew, giving it an intensely nutty and unique flavor.
To learn more, read "Brock Steady."
Brown Oyster Stew with Benne
Recipe adapted from "Heritage," by Sean Brock (Artisan Books)
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
40 eastern oysters, such as Bluepoints or Caper's Blades, shucked, with liquor reserved
1 cup diced bacon, preferably Benton's
1 cup medium diced white onion
3½ cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
Juice of 1½ lemons (about ⅓ cup)
Salt, to taste
Hot sauce, preferably Crystal Hot Sauce, to taste
2 tablespoons Anson Mills Sea Island Benne Seeds
½ cup finely sliced scallions
1. In a small container, combine the oysters and all their liquor; cover and refrigerate. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring frequently, until the fat is rendered and the pieces of bacon are crispy, about 8 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they becomes soft and translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to low. Add both flours and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the flours absorb the bacon fat. Continue stirring until the roux is golden in color, about 7 minutes.
3. Drain the oysters, reserving the liquor. Add the liquor and chicken stock to the roux and whisk until smooth. Bring to a simmer, still over low heat, until the mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and hot sauce. Add the oysters and cook, without stirring, until the oysters are just warm. Garnish with benne seeds and scallions and serve.