If you’re going for a traditional holiday meal this season, oysters must be on the menu. The early colonists found oysters to be abundant along the coastal shores, and they were a popular addition to the holiday feast. With oysters being plentiful, they really weren’t considered much of a delicacy like in today’s world.

Oysters can be prepared in many ways. My husband’s family makes it a tradition to serve oyster stew. As a newbie to the family and to oyster stew, I was hesitant to try it. However, desperate to win the heart of my husband’s sweet grandmother, I was pleasantly surprised at the oyster’s subtle flavor and the stew’s buttery creamy taste. If you can get over the texture of an oyster, you will be hooked! Oysters are also popular in stuffing, another holiday tradition on my mother’s side. Oyster dressing compliments both poultry and fish rather nicely. In some countries, oysters are de rigueur to ring in the new year.

Oysters on the half shell is another common way to eat oysters. These are served raw with a mignonette sauce. However, oysters may be contaminated with a dangerous bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus. High-risk individuals, including those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, children and the elderly, should avoid eating raw oysters. Boil shucked oysters for at least 3 minutes until the edges curl. If they are alive in their shell, boil until the shell opens, then boil another 3-5 minutes. Discard any oysters that do not open. If preparing oyster dressing to stuff in the cavity of a bird, cook oysters separately first. Then, prepare the dressing, stuff in the bird, and cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Four ounces of oyster meat contain 80 calories, 2 grams fat, and 9 grams protein. It’s also a good source of iron, vitamin E, zinc and iodine. With safety in mind, oysters are a nutritious and delightful addition to the holiday feast.

Creamy Oyster Stew

2 Tablespoons butter

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

12 ounces fresh raw oysters, in their liquid

1 quart half and half

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat butter on medium heat. Add shallot and garlic; sauté for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add remaining ingredients. Turn heat to low and cook until oysters begin to curl and mixture is hot, but not boiling. Serve immediately.

Yield: 5 servings

Nutrition facts (per serving): 380 calories, 28 grams fat, 340 milligrams sodium, 11 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 22 grams protein

Smith, a registered dietitian, is a nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.

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