We Asked An Expert How To Make Oyster Stew Dairy-Free

Originating from 19th-century Irish immigrants, oyster stew is a creamy dish of oysters, vegetables like celery and potato, and a rich broth of heavy cream and milk. It's a hearty meal, but it's also heavy on the dairy. However, there's no reason someone who's dairy-free shouldn't be able to answer their oyster cravings through oyster stew. We talked to expert Neal Bodenheimer about making a dairy-free version of oyster stew; he was certain that a little bit of creativity could solve the problem. Neal is a bartender and founder of Cure, a critically acclaimed cocktail bar in New Orleans.

Cooking is arguably an art form, and this means there are no right answers. "You can always experiment in cooking. You should experiment," Bodenheimer told us. Oyster stew may traditionally be a dairy-based dish, but that doesn't mean it has to stay in this lane. Using different ingredients can create unexpected tones in dishes that please our taste buds. This means any dairy-free alternatives sourced from whatever is in the pantry and refrigerator are fair game. Bodenheimer mentions coconut cream as a potential base for an oyster stew, but soy and nut milk could be equally creamy and delicious.

Be inspired by other diary-free soups

For a dairy-free oyster stew, Neal Bodenheimer's best advice is to "go in a different direction" while focusing on ingredients that harmonize well with each other. For example, if using coconut milk, "you'd want to change the potato to sweet potato." You could also turn to preexisting dishes from different cuisines for inspiration: "There's no reason [oyster stew] couldn't be Thai or Vietnamese-inflected." Tom kha gai is a Thai coconut chicken soup that combines creamy and sweet coconut milk with tangy and spicy flavors. Taking inspiration from typical ingredients found in this dish, you could make a coconut oyster stew with a kick of jalapeño peppers and cilantro, and serve it with a wedge of lime.

Another great diary-free milk option for oyster stew is soy milk (found in the Korean soy bean soup, kongguksu). Considered one of the most nutritious non-dairy milks, soy milk is creamy, slightly nutty, high in protein, and easy to make at home. This soy-based version of oyster stew could either take on the more typical ingredients of garlic and potato, or it could turn into a seaweed oyster stew, garnished with sesame seeds and green onions. These dairy-free versions may not be the same as a traditional Virginia oyster stew, but they are equally as flavorful and make for creative new recipes.