Herbsaint-Poached Oyster Soup

Herbsaint is New Orleans' own verson of pastis, one of many varieties of strong anise-flavored liquor that began life as absinthe many moons ago, but is now only as strong as the alcohol contained within. Herbsaint has a very complex flavor; anise predominates, but there are lots of other herbs used in its distillation as well.

This soup is "creamy" while being relatively low-fat; it's thickness comes from puréed potato rather than heavy cream, and resembles a warm Vichyssoise until the heavenly liquor-poached oysters go in.

The recipe comes to us from Chef Hubert Sandot of Martinique Bistro.

Cook the potatoes until tender.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter and sweat the leeks for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken stock and oyster liquor if available, then add the cooked potatoes and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a food processor and pur&ecute;e at the lowest speed at first, gradually increasing to high speed until the texture is smooth and creamy. Be VERY careful blending hot liquids! Season the soup to taste with salt and white pepper, then set aside and keep hot.

Heat a large nonstick skillet, then pour the oysters into it quickly. Keep the skillet on high heat, shaking the contents, for 1 minute; then add the Herbsaint and ignite. Be very careful doing this. Shake the skillet until the flame goes out, then add the water and poach for 1 minute. Discard the poaching liquid.

Pour the soup into hot bowls, then place 4 oysters on top of each serving. Make a fancy design with the chopped chives, and drops of Tabasco sauce. Impress your guests.

YIELD:  4 servings


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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)