If you eat seafood for Christmas Eve, consider trying this easy oyster chowder recipe. It’s a creamy dairy free soup recipe that’s perfect for anyone who’s also on a gluten free diet this Christmas season.
Your guests will certainly appreciate the time and effort you’ve taken to make sure there are Christmas Eve seafood recipes served that are dairy and gluten free. Most people I know have to bring their own food to the holiday feast!
An oyster chowder recipe inspired by Mark Twain
The reason I came up with this recipe for Easy Dairy Free Oyster Chowder recipe was due to a recipe challenge from Cook the Books. We were assigned Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens by Andrew Beahrs.
I didn’t realize what a gourmand Mark Twain, well, Samuel Clemens, was. Documented in his first successful novel, A Tramp Abroad, Mr. Twain took every opportunity to poke fun of the horrid hotel food in Europe and how he couldn’t wait to come back to “a plate of hot buckwheat cakes, with transparent syrup.” So different from today’s culinary adventurers who find bliss in every European bistro and sidewalk café and shutter to think of American fast food restaurants!
I wonder what Mr. Clemens would think of my Easy Dairy Free Oyster Chowder!
Exploring American food ways with Twain’s Feast
Even if you’re not a big fan of Mark Twain’s books, if you love American food history, you’re sure to flip over Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens. Andrew Beahrs takes some of the foods Mr. Twain mentions in A Tramp Abroad, digs deeper into how people enjoyed them back in Twain’s time, and shows us how so many of foods that were taken for granted, like prairie chickens and terrapin turtle, are gone or endangered now due to environmental destruction and/or overhunting.
I was fascinated to learn how certain fish and oyster species no longer exist in their native habitats, like the native oysters in San Francisco Bay and the trout in Lake Tahoe. In fact, we’ve had to transplant other U.S. species just to keep up with demand and our changing landscape. Luckily there's oysters at the store for this dairy free seafood soup recipe!
My choice, an oyster recipe
When Twain was living in San Francisco in the 1860s, oyster places were popular places for men (and men only!) to gather, talk, eat, smoke, drink – and drink some more. In 1892, according to Beahrs, Americans would eat 197,639,000 of dressed (meat only) oysters. It was the Age of Oysters! I find it sad today that most Americans go, “Ewwwww, oysters, how disgusting!” and won’t even eat cooked oysters let alone raw ones.
Inspired by Twain's Feast, I decided to make an oyster chowder recipe. While I was recovering from brain surgery, one night for dinner my husband, Paul, made two versions of this oyster soup recipe – one with milk and the other with rice milk for me, since I have a food sensitivity to the whey in milk.
The funny thing was that after trying both soups, we preferred the soup made with rice milk, which had a nice sweetness to it that complimented the taste of the oysters. The soup made with cow’s milk tasted like milk and then like oysters. It was kind of nasty, frankly.
From oyster soup to oyster chowder
When Paul made his oyster soup, he hadn’t bothered to thicken either with a roux or cream, so I wanted to figure out how to thicken the oyster soup while keeping it both gluten free and dairy free. I decided to try two methods in my easy oyster chowder recipe. Maybe this was overkill, but it worked out nicely to thicken the oyster soup into a creamy oyster chowder that was both gluten and dairy free.
First, I added cooked rice to rice milk, heated it up, and then used an immersion blender to create a super thick rice milk broth. Second, I cooked up a roux with an all purpose gluten free flour and a non-dairy buttery spread. While this served to further thicken the chowder and give it a velvety finish, it also added a lot of buttery flavor to the stew. If you’re used to making a roux with regular flour and butter, don’t expect a gluten free flour and buttery spread roux to brown. It just won’t. If you wait around, it’ll just start getting crusty and burnt.
About the oysters. I used canned whole oysters and was pleasantly surprised of their excellent quality. The oyster liquor tasted great and the oysters themselves were plump and fresh smelling.
I did find fresh (dressed) oysters at one of my grocery stores, but I’m always a bit weary of grocery store seafood. Plus, eight ounces of (dressed) oysters were $6 versus $2.49 for the cans. I don’t want to assume you have access to fresh oysters or the budget to purchase them.
Ideally, if I lived closer to Atlanta, I would have driven to one of the terrific Asian supermarkets like H-mart. They all carry high quality fresh seafood and will shuck fresh oysters for you to use in your Easy Dairy Free Oyster Chowder! If you have Asian markets like H-mart near you, make sure to give them your patronage.
Finally, if you don't like oysters, feel free to use canned whole clams instead as this recipe would also make a fantastic clam chowder. Add a bag or two of frozen diced potatoes at the end, heat through on medium, and you're ready to go!
Gluten Free and Dairy Free Oyster Chowder
- 7 cups rice milk, divided
- 3 cups cooked white rice
- 1 cup dairy free buttery spread
- 1/2 cup all purpose gluten free flour
- 2 large shallots, minced
- 4 large stalks celery, minced
- 4 (8 ounce) cans oysters, drained reserving the liquid
- Salt and white pepper, to taste
- Hot sauce for serving
- Heat 4 cups of rice milk and white rice in a large pot slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a low simmer.
- Take an immersion blender and blend rice milk and rice until smooth. (You can do this in stages in a blender or food processor instead.)
- Add remaining 3 cups of rice milk and bring rice broth back to a low simmer. Reduce heat to low.
- In a separate skillet, melt the buttery spread over medium to medium high heat for the roux. Add the gluten free flour tablespoon by tablespoon, stirring it in until the flour is totally incorporated. Cook and stir for 2 minutes.
- Add the minced shallots, minced onions, and the reserved oyster liquid. Cook until the celery and shallots are softened, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add the roux, shallots and celery mixture to the rice broth. Stir until fully incorporated. If chowder seems too thick, you can add more rice milk if you like.
- Add oysters to the chowder and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Cook until heated through and keep on low heat.
- Serve with hot sauce.
- Serving size: 1 to 2 bowls
Originally published March 31, 2014. Updated with new pictures and information.