Classic Oyster Stew With Fennel Recipe

Oyster stew is one of the most comforting winter soups—as well as one of the simplest and quickest to prepare.

Overhead closeup of a bowl of oyster stew, garnished with fennel fronds and minced chive.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik; Video: Vicky Wasik

Why This Recipe Works

  • The anise flavor of fennel infuses the whole-milk base and works wonderfully with the oysters.
  • Whole milk and butter make an oyster stew that's just rich enough without being heavy.

I have a playlist on my computer titled "Snow Songs," which I put together many years ago while snowflakes as big as cotton balls drifted slowly past my apartment windows. The tracks on it are all wildly different, but each manages to capture, at least to my ear, the soothing calm that comes with such a soft, heavy snowfall. On it is Caetano Veloso's rendition of the Mexican ballad "Cucurrucucú Paloma," followed by Chaka Khan's piano-backed love song "Love Me Still." After that comes Erik Satie's Trois Gymnopédies, composed in 1888, and Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song," which maybe should have been called The Snow Song. Each, in its own way, is both spare yet comforting—perhaps it's no accident that we describe snow as forming a blanket, a word that conjures nothing but coziness.

If I could pick just one dish to accompany that playlist, it would be oyster stew.

You'll see a lot of different oyster stew recipes out there. Some are thickened with flour, or enriched with cream, or flavored with bits of smoky bacon that make you think of a smoldering fire with every bite. Those are all good, but they're not quite the type I have in mind right now. The kind I want—the kind I find most comforting—is a little more lean, even verging on austere.

Now, don't run away just yet. This isn't some ascetic version of oyster stew made with skim milk or anything horrible like that. It's rich in its own way, thanks to a generous amount of butter and whole milk—that's the comforting part. But it's clean, too, unencumbered by pork fat and flour, allowing the oysters to deliver their full flavor of frigid, briny sea.

As you'll see here, oyster stew is really more of a soup, in the way a lot of fish stews are. It's not slow-cooked in the least. In fact, it's one of the quickest soups I know.

I start by dicing aromatic vegetables, like onion, celery, and fennel if I have it. If I don't, I'll add a splash of Pernod right before adding the milk later.

Finely diced shallots, fennel, and celery are piled together on a cutting board.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Then I melt a generous pat of butter in a saucepan and cook the diced vegetables in it. A few sprigs of thyme or a bay leaf deepens the flavor. As soon as the vegetables are softened, but not even remotely browned, I add the milk and bring the mixture just to a simmer.

Milk is added to the pan along with the softened aromatics and herbs.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Then I slide in the oysters and their liquor.

Oysters are added to the stew from a liquid measuring cup.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

You can shuck the oysters yourself, if you're up for it (if so, take a look at our guide to shucking, or check out the video below).


How to Shuck an Oyster

If not, you can use one of those pop-top tubs of pre-shucked fresh oysters that most fishmongers sell. In cooked dishes, a lot of the finer nuances of freshly shucked oysters are lost anyway, so you won't be making much of a sacrifice in terms of flavor.

An 8-ounce container of pasteurized shucked oysters.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

I cook the oysters, still at a bare simmer, just until they've firmed up and their edges curl. It doesn't take more than a few minutes.

A little salt, a little pepper, some fresh herbs—parsley, fennel fronds, tarragon, and chives all work—and it's ready. It's not thick like a clam chowder, or hearty like a beef stew, but a steamy bowl manages to soothe in its own perfectly restrained way. Snowstorm not required.

Closeup of oyster stew served in a black bowl, garnished with minced chive, parsley, and fennel fronds.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

November 2015

Recipe Details

Classic Oyster Stew With Fennel Recipe

Active 20 mins
Total 20 mins
Serves 4 servings

Oyster stew is one of the most comforting winter soups—as well as one of the simplest and quickest to prepare.


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (42g)

  • 2 medium shallots, finely diced (about 50g)

  • 1/2 medium head fennel, finely diced (about 50g) (see note)

  • 1 large stalk celery, finely diced (about 50g)

  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 10g)

  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 dried bay leaf

  • 1 quart (950mlwhole milk

  • 2 dozen oysters, shucked, liquor reserved (about 1 1/2 cups; 350g) (see note)

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Minced parsley, chives, tarragon, and/or fennel fronds, for garnish


  1. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots, fennel, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add thyme or bay leaf.

  2. Add milk and bring to a bare simmer. Add oysters and their liquor and return to a bare simmer; adjust heat as necessary to prevent boiling. Simmer until oysters are just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Discard thyme or bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, garnish with herbs, and serve.

    The oyster stew is simmered in a saucier.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

Large saucepan


If you don't have fennel, you can substitute 3 tablespoons of Pernod, added just before the milk.

If you don't want to shuck your own oysters, feel free to use pre-shucked fresh ones (along with their liquor) from your fishmonger.

Read More

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
387 Calories
21g Fat
25g Carbs
25g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 387
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 21g 27%
Saturated Fat 11g 54%
Cholesterol 135mg 45%
Sodium 546mg 24%
Total Carbohydrate 25g 9%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 14g
Protein 25g
Vitamin C 16mg 82%
Calcium 315mg 24%
Iron 9mg 47%
Potassium 732mg 16%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)