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An ancient English sauce of oysters

This is one of the oldest and most versatile sauce recipes in the English canon and yet is seldom seen today. It will enhance nearly any finfish from the sea and lots of poultry too.


Oysters of course are no longer dirt cheap, a salient reason why they once had been used with abandon as flavorings for other foods. They used to cost, for example, a lot less than mushrooms, and so found their way into meat pies and stuffings instead. Even now that oysters veer toward luxury, however, the recipe need not bust your bank. You do not need all that many oysters to make a good sauce, and very good this is.

This version comes from The Food of the Western World (London 1976), Theodora FitzGibbon’s encyclopedia of the foodways found in Europe and North America. It is an addicting hybrid of historical tracery, succinct description and, sometimes, recipes. Not every entry gets one: Oyster sauce is important.

It may not follow britishfoodinamerica format but the recipe that Mrs. FitzGibbon provides is so clear and concise that there would be no point in failing to quote it:

“Six or more oysters are opened carefully and their liquor collected and strained through fine muslin. The liquor is put in a saucepan with a pinch of powdered mace and a small strip of lemon peel and simmered gently for 10 minutes. Then one tablespoon butter and one teaspoon flour, which have been rubbed together, are blended in quickly. When the sauce boils, it is seasoned and the bearded oysters are put in to cook gently until their edges curl. It is then served.”

This will not give you much sauce but fear not. To make more, stick to these proportions for every six oysters you use; figure on three or four per person depending on the condition of your bank account and generosity of your mood.