Bourbon Beef and Oyster Pot

Created by one of my mentors, Pearl Byrd Foster of Virginia, this is possibly the best example I know of truly innovative Southern cookery. Illogical as it may sound, beef and oysters make a brilliant marriage, enhanced especially by the use of a less tender but more flavorful cut of meat simmered slowly for a long time for optimum succulence. The ideal vessel for preparing this is an enameled cast-iron pot. Pearl always served the dish with simple parsleyed new potatoes and corn sticks, and I’ve never found a reason not to follow her practice.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • One 3-pound bottom or top round beef roast, trimmed of all fat and cut into 1½-inch cubes
  • 3 ounces bourbon
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large carrot, scraped, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 2 cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 quart fresh, shucked oysters, liquor included
  • ½ cup peeled and freshly grated horseradish

Method

In a heavy 4-quart pot, heat the oil and butter together over moderate heat till the butter melts, then add the beef and brown it on all sides. Pour off any excess fat, add the bourbon, carefully ignite, and when the flames die out, add the broth and water and scrape the bottom to loosen all the browned bits. Add the onion, celery, carrot, potato, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, cloves, and thyme, season with Worcestershire, Tabasco, and salt and pepper, and stir to blend well. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to moderately low, and simmer till the meat is very tender, about 2 hours.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a platter, carefully pour the liquid and vegetables into a food processor or blender (in batches, if necessary), and reduce to a purée, adding a little more broth if the mixture is too thick. Return the meat and puréed vegetables to the pot, arrange the oysters over the top, and pour the oyster liquor over them. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook just till the edges of the oysters curl, 5 to 6 minutes. Serve the beef and oysters with a little horseradish on the side.