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This briny oyster soup brings the smells and tastes of Louisiana’s coast to your table

(Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post/Food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Oyster Soup
Active time:1 hour 45 mins
Total time:2 hours 30 mins
Servings:10 to 12
Active time:1 hour 45 mins
Total time:2 hours 30 mins
Servings:10 to 12

This recipe makes a pot of soup big enough to feed a crowd and can be scaled down as needed. In her cookbook, “Mosquito Supper Club,” Melissa M. Martin, the owner of the New Orleans restaurant of the same name, describes the soup as one handed down from her grandmother, Velma Marie.

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“My grandmother’s oyster soup tastes of salt pork and briny oysters, of sweet tomatoes and alliums," Martin writes. "It resembles a tomato-forward bouillabaisse and smells like the oyster beds of Louisiana. The salt pork comes from our Acadian salt-curing roots; it mellows the acidity of the tomatoes and mingles perfectly with the salt from the sea.”

Note: Martin offers this tip for finding oyster liquor (also known as oyster water): Ask an oyster supplier, seafood market or an oyster bar if they will save some oyster liquor for you. If not, here’s a tip from her oyster purveyor: Take 6 shucked oysters and blend them with 1 quart of water, adding 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, then strain the liquid and use it in place of the oyster liquor. Taste your oyster liquor: If it’s not salty, add 1 teaspoon of salt, or more as needed, to bring the brininess up. Use immediately.

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Storage: Leftover soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 8 ounces salt pork, diced
  • 4 pounds large yellow onions (about 7), finely diced
  • 4 large ripe tomatoes (2 pounds total), cored
  • 1 cup (4 3/4 ounces, about 3 heads) finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more as needed
  • 12 1/2 cups oyster liquor (see NOTE), fish stock or chicken stock
  • 2 pints shucked salty oysters, drained and oyster liquor reserved (see above)
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • 8 ounces small or medium pasta shells, cooked according to the package instructions
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup finely diced scallions, for garnish

Step 1

Warm a large heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, then add the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the salt pork and cook, turning as needed to brown on all sides, about 12 minutes total.

Step 2

Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 30 minutes.

Step 3

Add the tomatoes, garlic, black pepper and cayenne and stir well. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let everything smother together, stirring every 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are completely broken down and fall apart easily when you press on them with a spoon, about 45 minutes. (The timing may be a little shorter or longer depending on the size of your tomatoes.)

Step 4

Add the oyster liquor and raise the heat to medium. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, letting the flavors marry; the soup will be salty from the oyster water and salt pork and sweet from the tomatoes and onions.

Step 5

Just before serving, add the oysters to the soup and raise the heat to medium. Bring the soup to a brisk simmer and cook for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Taste the soup, adding salt or more cayenne as needed.

Step 6

Add the cooked pasta shells and stir to combine. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the parsley and green onions.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 336; Total Fat: 20 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 49 mg; Sodium: 721 mg; Carbohydrates: 24 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 15 g.

Recipe adapted from “Mosquito Supper Club” by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books, 2020).

Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to

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