From New England scalloped oysters cooked in cream and butter to New Orleans gumbo to perloo, a South Carolina oyster stew similar to pilaf, oyster stews span the United States and beyond. In fact, canned oyster stew, developed by a Washington state manufacturer, is sold worldwide. When choosing oysters to cook in a stew, pick either fresh oysters in their shells or in jars in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. Oysters range from 1 1/2 inches long up to foot-long varieties, but all of them cook quickly because, unlike meat, oysters contain lots of water and minimal muscle.
If you are using oysters still in the shell, shuck them by wrapping each one in a towel and holding it with the flat side down on a cutting board while you wedge a shucking knife into the shell. Turn the knife to pop open the shell. Pour excess liquid from the shell into a bowl before cutting the oyster out of the shell.
Cut the oysters into the size you want for your stew. Small ones won't need cutting, but you may want to cut large oysters into halves or thirds.
Place the oysters in a bowl and set aside. Try to save as much of the oyster liquid as you can to add to the stew by draining it from the shell, the cutting board or the jar.
Cook your oyster gumbo, perloo or stew according to the recipe directions until all ingredients except the oysters and any other shellfish have been added.
Add the oysters to the stew and cook them on medium-low heat for five to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the oysters. You'll know the oysters are cooked when their edges begin to curl.