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Arsters "He-Stew" Revisited

From: elaine  
Sent: Friday, December 28, 2012 11:05 AM
Subject: "Arsters" He-Stew

Re: "Arsters" He-Stew 
Thank you so much for posting this recipe, I have been looking for it 
for a long time!I have two questions though:
1:  how much milk is used?  The ingredient list says "milk", I just need 
     a ballpark idea of how much.
2:  at the end where the butter is added at the last, on top of the saffron, 
     is it cold butter or melted?

Thank you for any insight you can give.....we have shucked over 
100 lbs of New Orleans oysters since Christmas day and this stew 
 will (almost) be the last of them can't wait to try it!!


Hello Elaine,

The problem is that I don’t have authoritative answers to your questions, and no one else seems to have them, either. That “He-Stew” oyster stew recipe is found in James Michener’s novel “Chesapeake”, and nowhere else. The recipe, as it is in the book, is excerpted below. He doesn’t say how much milk is used, nor does he say whether the butter is melted or not. I performed a diligent search, and I had no success locating any mention of an oyster stew called “he-stew” that predates Michener’s book. I did not find any oyster stew recipes from before the novel, Maryland or Chesapeake in origin, that contained tapioca and saffron. To be sure, there are some with bacon and onions and milk or cream, but no saffron and no tapioca. You can find “He-Stew” in restaurants in Maryland now, but these menu items all appear to have been added after the book, not before. Several people have taken Michener’s Chesapeake “He-Stew” recipe and tried to adapt it into a usable recipe. There are three of those below. You should be able to get an idea of the amount of milk needed from them. I would speculate that the butter was added in small, but solid pieces, to melt from the heat of the stew.

I ran into this same problem with “The Novel”, another one of Michener’s books. In it, he has a Pennsylvania Dutch cook preparing a baked rice pudding recipe in which the pudding was stirred during the last half of baking. I could not find a Pennsylvania Dutch rice pudding recipe that fit the book description and predated the novel. I think that it would be a mistake to consider the recipes in Michener’s books as common and traditional in the areas in which the books are set. He makes them sound as if they are traditional and common in those settings, but I think that he would simply find a recipe that he liked during his research for each novel and then use it whether or not it was a common and traditional recipe in that area.


Arsters “He Stew” From James A. Michener's "Chesapeake"
                         Mess of bacon
    8      Large         onions
    2                    hefty stalks of celery
   48                    oysters
                         oyster liquor
                         tapioca powder
      1/2  Lb.           butter

From James A. Michener's "Chesapeake", Copyrighted in
1978 by Random House, Inc., Chapter 22, "The Waterman":
(An excerpted conversation between the cook, Big Jimbo
and the crew aboard the Skipjack, Jessie T. as she prepared for
her maiden trip to dredge for "arsters" in Maryland's Choptank River).

“A She-Stew is the traditional one: Eight oysters per
person boiled slightly in their own liquor, then in milk
thickened with flour, flavored with celery, salt and pepper. A
great opening course, but not a meal for a working man.
A He-Stew is quite different, as Big Jimbo prepared his
version. First he took a mess a bacon and fried it crisp. As
it sizzled he chopped eight large onions and two hefty stalks
of celery. Deftly he whisked the bacon out, tossing the
vegetables into the hot oil to saute. Soon he withdrew them,
placing them with the bacon. Then he tossed the forty eight
oysters into the pan, browning them just enough to implant the
flavor, then he quickly poured in the liquor from the oysters
and allowed them to cook until their gills wrinkled.
Next Big Jimbo did two things that made his stew unforgettable. 
Taking a small pinch of tapioca powder, he tossed it
into the oysters and liquor and in a few minutes the finely
ground tapioca powder had expanded it into a large translucent,
gelatinous mass. When he was satisfied he poured the oysters
into the milk, which he had already brought to a simmer, tossed
in the vegetables, then crumbled the bacon between his fingers,
throwing it on top.
The sturdy dish was almost ready. Finally, Big Jimbo
dusted the top of the stew with Saffron, giving it a golden
richness, which he augmented with a half-pound of butter at the
last moment. When the crew dug in, they found one of the
richest, tastiest "Arster" stews a marine cook had ever devised.”
"He Stew"

1 lb bacon
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
2 pints raw oysters, drained, liquor reserved
4 cups milk, half and half or heavy cream ( I use 2 cups whole milk and 
                                                                         2 cups half n half)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
salt and pepper to taste
nice pinch of saffron
1/2 cup butter 
oyster crackers

Fry up the bacon until crisp, reserve drippings. Crumble bacon when
cooled and set aside. In Dutch Oven, use some of the bacon drippings 
to saute the onion and celery until soft, then remove from DO. 
Take the drained oysters and saute in drippings just until they start to 
curl. remove from DO. 
Heat milk, whisk in cornstarch that has been dissolved in a small amount 
of oyster liquor. Simmer, stirring, until mixture becomes very thick and 
gelatanious, adding more cornstarch if needed. 
Add oysters and celery/onions, add remaining oyster liquor as needed 
to maintain a smooth, creamy consistency as the stew cooks-uncovered, 
over low heat for 15 mins. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. 
At serving time, transfer to large serving bowl and grind saffron to a 
powder ( or buy it powdered if you can/want to) and sprinkle over top 
of stew. Cut butter into pats and nestle them down into stew to melt, then 
sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the top of stew and serve with the oyster 
crackers or saltines. 
"He-Oyster Stew"
Yield: 8 Servings

6 Strips Bacon, Fried, Crisply    
1/2 Stick Butter
1 Pound Or 2 Cans Oysters, Sauteed    
1 Tsp Salt
1 Onion, Chopped    
1/2 Tsp Pepper
1 Rib Celery, Chopped    
1/4 Tsp Oregano
1 Tsp Tapioca Powder    
1 Quart Milk
1/2 Tsp Saffron    

Fry bacon until very crisp, set aside. Sauté onions in celery in grease, 
put aside. Sauté oysters, quickly, pour juice in pan and simmer until 
gills wrinkle. Add milk, let simmer, add tapioca powder. 
Add remaining ingredients, sprinkling bacon bits on top. Sprinkle with 
saffron. Add bits of butter, salt, pepper, and oregano. Let simmer about 
an hour. 
"Ralph’s Oyster & Crab Stew"

1 Lb Bacon, coarsely chopped (double smoked, premium, thick cut)
48 Oysters, fresh shucked
1 Lb Crab, fresh picked
4 C Onions, coarsely chopped
2 C Celery stalks, chopped
2 Pints Milk, Whole
1 C Cream
1 Tbl Tapioca Powder
Pinch Saffron, toasted in a bit of butter
Splash Sherry

Use the large caldron you are planning on making the stew in to fry 
the bacon until crisp. The bacon must be in large chunks so it is a 
distinct flavor. In the bottom of the caldron will be browned bacon juice. 
Remove the bacon with a strainer and leave the bacon fat in the pan.
Fry the onion and celery in the bacon fat. The onion should be translucent 
and limp. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get up the brown bacon juices. 
Cook the onions until they are soft and beginning to brown. This will take 
at least 15 minutes. Remove them from the pan with a strainer.
Pour the accumulated fat from the bacon and the onions back into the 
caldron. At this point, the pan can be turned off and everything will hold 
until you are ready to eat.
Strain the oysters from their liquor and reserve the liquor.
Add the reserved oyster liquor to the pan and boil it down by half. 
This is important, as this reduced juice gives the stew an incomparable 
oyster flavor plus it, with the bacon, provides all the salt this stew needs.
While the oyster juice is reducing, put the milk and cream into another 
pan and warm them up.
Add the tapioca powder to a cup of milk and put it in the pan. This will 
thicken almost immediately.
Add the vegetables, hot milk, oysters, and crab to the reduced oyster liquor. 
The stew should be thicker than 
cream and a deep yellow from the saffron. Barely warm it. It should NEVER 
come to a boil. If it does, the oysters will shrivel into chewy nuggets, which 
makes all your prior work wasted.
Michener’s recipe calls for adding a half pound of butter at this point. 
Since this butter is not mixed with any starch, it floats on top of the stew. 
Unless you enjoy eating straight melted butter, omit this step.
When the stew is warm, crumble the bacon over each bowl and serve.

Paleo Pot Roast

From: Pat 
Sent: Tuesday, January 01, 2013 10:04 PM
Subject: Paleo Recipe

I am trying to find the Paleo Diet recipe for the pot roast that is made with 
cinnamon and sweet potatoes.  
Can you help me out?  Thanks


Hello Pat,

There are such recipes on these sites:

Purely Primal

Primal Rebel

Love Care Heal


Banana Sauce

From: Ethel 
Sent: Thursday, December 27, 2012 7:58 PM

Hi, I am looking for a recipe for a warm dessert sauce we had on bread
pudding in a cafe.  The waiter said it was made with banana liqueur.  
It appeared sort of carmel like.  Thanks

Hello Ethel,

These sites have bananas foster bread pudding recipes with a sauce that calls for banana liqueur.:

Dickie Breen Steakhouse

Gumbo Pages

If these are not what you want, then I need the following information:

1) What was the name of the café and where was it located

2) What kind of bread pudding was it? What was it’s name?


Eddie's Fried Chicken

From: Michael 
Sent: Monday, December 31, 2012 11:21 PM
To: Phaedrus
Subject: Question

Dear Phaedrus, friend of Socrates, 

   A few years ago I asked you if you could find the fried chicken recipe 
for Eddie's, which was a restaurant on Law St. in New Orleans back in 
the 1970s.  The best fried chicken ever!  And it was baked not fried.  
A platter of 1/2 fried chicken, sitting on wedges of herbed toast, with a 
small lettuce and tomato salad and French fries was 3.25.  Creole filet 
gumbo was 1.00.  Rum bread pudding was .75, and Eddie would come 
out of the kitchen with a stainless steel handle holding two small 
stainless steel containers---one on ice was homemade whipped cream, 
the other was hot butter under a bunsen (sp) burner.  Eddie would put 
a dollop of whipped cream on the bread pudding, then with a tiny ladle 
put the butter on the whipped cream.  There would be a short sizzle, 
and the aromas of the pudding and cream would rise up.  Ah, eating 
like a king for $5.00!   Richard Collins, the underground gourmet who 
had a column in the NO Times-Picayune, gave Eddie's ghetto restaurant 
a three star rating, the same as Antoine's and Brennen's.  Have you 
come across Eddie's fried chicken recipe since I contacted you years ago?   
Another great fried chicken was at the Buntyn Cafe in Memphis.  
Have you come across their recipe?

Best wishes and Happy New Year!   Michael 

Hi Michael,

I did a search for Buntyn’s Fried Chicken in May, with no success. A reader and helper sent some Buntyn’s recipes that he had, but he did not have the fried chicken recipe. See: Buntyn's Recipes I’d say no one has this recipe except family, and they aren’t giving it up.

I did another thorough search for the Eddie’s recipe today, to no avail. There are some excellent articles about Eddie’s on these pages:


French Creoles

I hate to be pessimistic, Michael, but my thinking is that if anyone at all had Eddie’s fried chicken recipe, it would have to be his son Wayne. My understanding is that Eddie’s wife actually did most of the cooking at Eddie’s while Eddie schmoozed with customers, and she would have passed the recipe on to Wayne after Eddie passed away, if she had it and if Wayne didn’t have it already. If Wayne did know the secret, then his chicken at Zachary’s and L’il Dizzy’s would taste like Eddie’s, wouldn’t it? If he had Eddie’s recipe, he would have used it, I’m sure. Why would he purposely continue to use a fried chicken recipe that wasn’t as good?

So, if Eddie’s secret was some kind of spice mixture that he and only he knew – he didn’t even tell his wife and kids - then he must have mixed it himself, and it must be lost. He didn’t pass it on and he most likely didn’t write it down. When Eddie passed, his wife and kids would have searched every possible location for the spice mixture recipe. If they didn’t find it and it hasn’t been found since, then odds are it’s lost for good.

On the other hand, if the secret was something other than a special spice mixture that he and only he knew, then Eddie’s wife and kids would have had to know it, since they worked in the kitchen at Eddie’s and did much of the cooking. And we're back where we started because if Wayne knew the secret, he would have used it at Zachary's and L'il Dizzy's.

Someday, I suppose, someone might accidentally come up with a "tastes-like" recipe.

I’d say the odds are much better for finding the Buntyn’s chicken recipe someday. I think that family members probably have that recipe. Maybe someday before it's too late, they’ll let go of it. Guess they have dreams of someone in the family opening another restaurant someday. Hope they either do so or come to their senses before the recipe is completely lost.

Of course, I won’t give up on either one. I’ll post this and keep my eyes open for these recipes.



While Eddie's and Buntyn's fried chicken recipes may be lost, Austin Leslie's is not. The New Orleans chef's recipes can be found on these sites:


NOLA Cuisine

Food & Wine

My Fox 8

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