Paula Peck’s Winter Oyster Recipe



Most of us don’t think about eating oysters during the holidays, or for that matter, in winter at all. But here in the Northeast, specifically on the East End of Long Island, oysters are at their tastiest. From late November to mid-January, these delicacies are both large and plump, allowing for additional preparation methods. It’s hard to compete with the fresh sea taste of a raw oyster, but the cold winter weather often demands hot food. This unpublished recipe for oysters in white wine sauce by my grandmother, Paula Peck, is the perfect compromise between a warm comforting dish and oysters pulling from bone-chilling water that morning.

My grandmother and her close friend James Beard shared similar views about fish and seafood. She insisted fish and seafood must always be fresh and never overcooked—now standard culinary rules that weren’t as common in the 1960s. Although she demanded high-quality seafood (usually from Citarella), it’s unlikely she ever got to enjoy the freshness the bays of eastern Long Island can provide.

With my father working with the Southold Project in Aquaculture Training, a Cornell Cooperative Extension Program in Southold, to revitalize the shellfish of Long Island, I’m often spoiled by the superior quality of the oysters I eat when visiting. These amazing mollusks bulk up over the summer in preparation for winter hibernation—and for us to eat them!—making them excellent candidates for this soup-like dish. Vegetables and herbs are combined with white wine, lemon juice and olive oil then simmered for an hour until slightly thickened and fragrant. Shelled oysters are then added with all their juices and quickly poached until just barely tender. The cooked oysters can then be served back in their shells, making them a perfect appetizer fit for one of my grandmother’s famous dinner parties for James Beard and Craig Claiborne, as well as your next holiday party.

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