In season from September to April. The old-fashioned plan of feeding oysters with a sprinkling of oatmeal or flour, in addition to the salt and water to which they were committed, has long been rejected by all genuine amateurs of these nutritious and excellent fish, who consider the plumpness which the oysters are supposed to gain from the process but poor compensation for the flavour which they are sure to lose. To cleanse them when they first come up from the beds, and to keep them in good condition for four or five days, they only require to be covered with cold water, with five ounces of salt to the gallon dissolved in it before it is poured on them: this should be changed with regularity every twenty-four hours. By following this plan with exactness they may be kept alive from a week to ten days, but will remain in perfect condition scarcely more than half that time. Oysters should be eaten always the instant they are opened. They are served often before the soup, in the first course of a dinner, left upon their shells, and arranged usually in as many plates as there are guests at table.
A pint of small plump oysters will be sufficient for quite a moderate-sized dish, but twice as many will be required for a large one. Let them be very carefully opened, and not mangled in the slightest degree; wash them free from grit in their own strained liquor, lay them into a very clean stewpan or well-tinned saucepan, strain the liquor a second time, pour it on them, and heat them slowly in it. When they are just beginning to simmer, lift them out with a slice or a bored wooden spoon, and take off the beards; add to the liquor a quarter-pint of good cream, a seasoning of pounded mace and cayenne, and a little salt, and when it boils, stir in from one to two ounces of good butter, smoothly mixed with a large teaspoonful of flour; continue to stir the sauce until these are perfectly blended with it, then put in the oysters and let them remain by the side of the fire until they are very hot: they require so little cooking, that if kept for four or five minutes nearly simmering, they will be ready for table, and they are quickly hardened by being allowed o boil, or by too much stewing. Serve them garnished with pale fried ippets.
Small plump oysters, 1 pint: their own liquor: brought slowly to the point of simmering. Cream, 1/4 pint; seasoning of pounded mace and cayenne; salt as needed; butter, 1 to 2 ounces; flour, 1 large tea-spoonful.
A little lemon-juice should be stirred quickly into the stew just as it is taken from the fire. Another mode of preparing this dish is to add the strained liquor of the oysters to about an equal quantity of rich bechamel, with a little additional thickening; then to heat them in it, after having prepared and plumped them properly. Or, the beards of the fish may be stewed for half an hour in a little pale veal gravy, and this, when strained and mixed with the oyster-liquor, may be brought to the consistency of cream with the French thickening of Chapter VI (Forcemeats)., or, with flour and butter, then seasoned with spice as above: the process should be quite the same in all of these receipts, though the composition of the sauce is varied. Essence of anchovies, or yolks of eggs can be added to the taste.