erin burnett oyster stew recipe cnnhosts 04
Erin Burnett's kids help recreate grandma's Christmas oyster stew
03:52 - Source: CNN

In this series, CNN anchors invite viewers into their kitchen, where they share family recipes and traditions with tutorials, tips and personal stories.

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In CNN anchor Erin Burnett’s childhood home, Christmas Eve and her mother’s New England oyster stew went hand in hand. Every December 24, savory aromas of simmering butter, milk and oysters heralded new family memories in the making.

“It was always a really joyful time, because I’m one of three girls,” said the host of Erin Burnett OutFront. “I’m younger than they are, so Christmas was when they were home from school.”

As a child, Burnett excitedly anticipated the quality time, but was frustrated with her mom’s menu choice. Oysters are “briny; they have a specific taste. Sometimes for kids, it’s a little challenging,” Burnett said. On Christmas Eve, “I was so excited because it’s Santa, and then going to bed hungry. It’s funny because my sister told me that I used to like the broth, and I don’t remember that.”

Oyster stew gradually grew on Burnett, though. At some point in college, she realized she really enjoyed the stew and oysters in general – so much so that this holiday season, she decided to make her mom’s specialty with her young children to continue the tradition.

“I love cooking with my kids,” she said. “When I was thinking about the traditions and the holidays and something that I experienced, I thought it would be fun to try it with them. So it was nice to make it with them for the first time. And it also happens to be a very simple recipe, so it’s easy for kids to do kind of from start to finish.”

CNN anchor Erin Burnett and her children cook oyster stew.

As the meal comes together, fresh oysters absorb the depth of flavor of sautéed butter and onion. Milk fosters a comforting creaminess. Spicing the stew with a bit of ground white pepper adds flavor without imparting a gritty texture and floating specks, like black pepper does. And garnishing with fresh parsley brightens the finished product with a pop of color.

Burnett’s mother, Esther Margaret Burnett, who passed away in 2018, never wrote the recipe down. But thanks to Burnett’s sister Mara’s good memory, Burnett has provided a close approximation.

Mom’s New England Oyster Stew

Some of the ingredients Burnett's oyster stew recipe calls for can be adjusted according to your health priorities.

CNN’s Erin Burnett used freshly shucked oysters, but jarred oysters, which are usually available during the holiday season, are a good option if fresh ones aren’t available. Burnett drains and rinses the oysters, but you can omit that step if you want to taste more brine.

Makes 4 servings


  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter (or 3 ¾ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil)
  • Diced white onion to taste (optional)
  • 2 dozen raw oysters, freshly shucked, or about 1 pint jarred oysters, drained
  • 2 cups skim or whole milk (can be adjusted to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon celery salt + more to taste
  • Ground white pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)


1. Melt butter in a large soup pot over low to medium heat (or, if using extra-virgin olive oil, heat the oil).

2. Add the onion; sauté until softened and translucent, taking care not to brown, about 8 minutes.

3. Add the fresh oysters. Cook until the edges of the oysters just begin to curl, 3 to 4 minutes. “Oysters don’t take long to cook, but you don’t want an overcooked, rubbery oyster,” Burnett said. “Just keep an eye on it.”

4. Gradually stir in small amounts of milk, then monitor the heat so the milk simmers, forming tiny bubbles only, and does not boil. If it boils, a coagulated film could form, and the stew might taste burnt.

5. Season to taste with celery salt and white pepper. Garnish with parsley, then serve.

Stay tuned for the next edition of this series, in which CNN anchors reveal cooking tips and personal stories from the kitchen.