Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe

I’m super excited to share this recipe with you this week. Oyster and artichoke soup is a New Orleans classic, made famous by Chef Warren Leruth of LeRuth’s Restaurant. It’s a soup that’s fawned over and coveted here in New Orleans. Really, though, what’s not to love? Oysters, artichokes, cream – I’m in! Before we talk more about Chef Leruth and his soup, let’s talk a bit about these oysters, the star of the dish.

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
On Super Bowl Sunday, Jeremy and I interviewed Nick Collins of Collins Oyster Company in Golden Meadow, Louisiana for our forthcoming book. Golden Meadow is my hometown, and I grew up always knowing that Collins Oysters were the best – the saltiest, tastiest oysters from the marshes of Golden Meadow. Nick was a great interview – he told us all about what life is like as an oysterman and how things have changed over the years. It was truly a fascinating story, and one that I look forward to telling in our book.

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
Below is one of the three oyster boats that Collins Oyster Co. owns right now. This one is actually not currently being used, which is why it is in Bayou Lafourche instead of in the marsh area where their oyster leases are.  The size and shape of this boat is typical for oyster boats. They are usually low, flat and wide since oysters are picked in fairly shallow water. These boats can also hold thousands of oysters if need be. Their cargo capacity is quite astounding. I’ve seen old pictures of one of the Collins boats where it looked like it was nearly sinking from the weight of all the oysters it had aboard. Can you say YUM?

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
What’s important to know here is that we are in the thick of oyster season. Oysters are fairly plentiful and going for a pretty good price. As of two weeks ago, Collins was selling a half sack for $30 and a full sack for $45. Pretty fair, if you ask me. As we were leaving that day, Nick asked Jeremy and I if we’d like a half sack of oysters… Would we??? YES, PLEASE!!! Jeremy and I are both huge oyster lovers so this was something neither of us thought twice about. Nick reached into the refrigerated storage (see below), and gave us a lovely half sack of oysters. Best I can estimate is that there was between 7 and 8 dozen in that half sack. It’s really hard to say because we ate some before we left Golden Meadow so my final count is less than scientific.

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
So we were all happy and excited that we had a half sack of oysters, but then we realized, hey, we have to shuck all of these. And we didn’t even own a shucking knife at the time. Undeterred and still beaming with happiness over our oysters, we found an oyster knife at Frank’s, a local grocery store in Golden Meadow. It was an expensive one (Dexter brand), but we were desperate. At least we found out later that it’s a high quality knife – I asked my brother about it and he confirmed. Yay for quality!

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
At about four in the afternoon on Super Bowl Sunday we set out to drive back to New Orleans from Golden Meadow. That drive takes about an hour and a half or so. Once we got home we proceeded to start shucking. I was actually eager to do alot of it so I did the bulk. In the end, it took about an hour and a half to shuck all those oysters. It’s not actually very difficult to clean an oyster once you get the hang of it. First you need gloves. Steel mesh gloves are the safest, but I made do with some regular work gloves. Next you take the oyster knife in your dominant hand and hold the oyster with your other hand. You wedge the oyster knife into the hinge (back end) of the oyster and most of the time, it will just pop open.

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
But every once in a while you’ll hit a shell that’s a bit more work. That ended up being about 10% of the sack, and I left those for Jeremy to do. Of those that were difficult to crack, I ended up having to take about ten of those and cracking them open with a hammer. That’s a less than ideal method for several reasons: 1) you get shell in your oysters 2) you loose the juice (aka liquor) in the shell and 3) you’re using a hammer so chances of injury increase. But we wanted every last oyster so I carefully hammered them out. I did it incident free (yay, me!).

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
So I just talked about the oyster “juice”. It’s actually called the brine or the liquor. It’s the salty water that gets trapped inside the oyster shell when the oyster closes for the last time. It’s what helps keep the oyster happy and healthy in that shell before you eat it! These oysters were full of delicious salty liquor. If you’re ever shucking oysters, be sure to keep this delicious liquor for use in a soup like this or a good gumbo. If you’re just shucking the oysters for frying, you don’t need the liquor, but I’d still freeze it and keep it for my next gumbo. But hey, that’s just me…

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
Below you can see me carefully shucking oysters in our kitchen sink. Normally this is something better suited to do outside, but since we live in the city, our work space is limited. I made do pretty well in the kitchen. As I said before, I had no injuries from this exercise and neither did Jeremy. Wearing the gloves and being very careful with the knife and shells were the keys to our success. While an oyster knife isn’t sharp, you are typically using a good deal of force when you use one so a jab from it into the hand can be painful, if hit hard enough.

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
Once I finished shucking the oysters, I had about 5 dozen (I figure we ate at least 2 dozen between us that afternoon). I froze two dozen in their liquor for either gumbo or fried oysters later. Oysters actually do freeze rather well, especially in their own liquor. I used the other three dozen in this soup. Once I realized how many oysters I had, I knew that I wanted to make an oyster and artichoke soup. I actually got the idea from Mr. Kevin McCaffrey, a local historian and documentary film maker. We interviewed him the day before we got those oysters, and he was telling us about how oyster and artichoke soup is his favorite Southeastern Lousiana dish. It really just worked out perfectly. I’m not sure I’d have thought to do this dish otherwise. It was pretty serendipitous.

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
So now let’s get on to the actual soup. As I said before, this is a New Orleans classic. Chef Warren Leruth likely created the recipe sometime in the late 1960’s or 1970’s (the restaurant opened in 1966), but it’s really hard to say. Chef Leruth was a recipe developer and food scientist as well as chef. He worked tirelessly not only in his own restaurants but also in the development of food products like Popeye’s chicken, biscuits and red beans recipes. He also worked for chains like the Outback Steakhouse and developed the Seven Seas line of salad dressings. He was truly a man who loved food that tasted good, and he enjoyed the art and science of recipe development (a man after my own heart).

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe
I based my recipe here on two other recipes that I saw. The method for this is pretty standard for Creole soups and bisques. It’s butter based with lots of vegetables as the base seasonings. A combination of chicken stock and oyster liquor make the soup base, and they do a fantastic job of creating a rich flavor base for the dish. The artichokes and the oysters help give the dish its signature flavor. This soup isn’t for the fait of heart – it contains butter, heavy cream, oysters and cheese. But it’s so tasty. It’s definitely a great use of fresh oysters.

For those of you who can’t get fresh salty oysters, you have my sympathy, truly. For those of you who do, make this dish and let me know how you like it!! 🙂

Yield: 6-8 servings

Oyster and Artichoke Soup Recipe

This oyster and artichoke soup recipe is based on the classic New Orleans favorite. It's packed with oysters, artichokes, cream and parmesan cheese. Really, what's not to love?

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups onions, chopped (one large onion)
  • 1 cup celery, chopped (three celery ribs)
  • 1 cup chopped green onions, tops and bottoms mixed
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cans of large artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed and chopped with rough outer leaves removed beforehand
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 3 dozen oysters + oyster liquor (in a separate container)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Method:

  1. In soup pot, melt butter over medium high heat.
  2. Add the onions, celery, green onions, kosher salt and cayenne. Cook until onions are wilted and shiny, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
  4. Add the artichokes and flour and stir thoroughly to combine. Once the flour and artichokes are stirred in, add the chicken stock and oyster liquor. Stir well to ensure that it’s thoroughly mixed and nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until mixture is heated through and thickened a bit. Total cook time here should be about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender. Make sure to thoroughly blend all of the artichoke hearts.
  7. Put back on the stove over medium-high heat. Add heavy cream, parmesan cheese, oysters, and chopped parsley. Stir well and simmer for another 5 minutes, until heated through and oysters begin to curl at the edges.
  8. Serve hot.

Recipe informed by recipes from Chef John Folse and The Gumbo Pages.

Research on Chef LeRuth:

Prep:20 min

Cook:45 min

Total:1 hour 05 min

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