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Mexican Oyster Stew

Raw oysters are covered in butter-soaked breadcrumbs and salsa, then baked with cheese.
Laura McCandlish for NPR

This piquant tortilla soup is inspired by my dad's recipe, where raw oysters are covered in butter-soaked breadcrumbs and salsa, then baked with cheese. The oysters stand up to the mild chilies and mellow ancho pepper, softened by the cheddar cheese and cream. The splash of tequila and squeeze of lime provide just the right zing.

Makes 4 servings as a soup course, or 2 as a main dish

1 dried ancho chili pepper

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes with their juice (I use Muir Glen with green chilies)

4-ounce can diced mild green chilies

2 cups of stock (I use a chicken-beef broth combination)

1 tablespoon crushed dried ancho chili pepper (or regular red pepper), or 1 teaspoon ground ancho

1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1 ounce silver tequila

2 small soft corn tortillas

1/2 cup frozen or canned sweet corn kernels

2 scallions, chopped, separating white and green parts

1/2 pint (8 ounces) petite oysters, strained (reserve liquor)

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1 lime, quartered

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 sprigs cilantro, stems removed and chopped

Place dried ancho chili in a hot skillet and toast until blistered and aromatic, about 1 minute per side. Grind the toasted pepper, including the seeds, in a spice grinder or food processor, or crush vigorously with a mortar and pestle.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a soup pot or large, heavy saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, green chilies, stock, crushed ancho chili and oregano. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Reduce to a simmer, add tequila and crumble in corn tortillas. Continue to simmer about 20 minutes, stirring, until tortillas are incorporated into the soup. Add corn kernels.

Melt remaining tablespoon butter in a separate fry pan. Add white parts of scallions and strained oysters, sauteing until they curl. At the same time, stir shredded cheese and heavy cream into soup. Add reserved liquor (optional) for extra oyster flavor. Stir in the oysters and pan juices. Spritz with half the lime. Cut the two remaining lime quarters into 4 wedges.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into bowls to serve, divvying up the oysters evenly. Garnish with chopped green scallion parts, cilantro and lime.

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