Lowcountry Brown Oyster Stew

Fermented locust beans and crawfish powder nod to the West African roots of Gullah Geechee cooking in this hearty, comforting recipe from chef Amethyst Ganaway.

  • Serves


  • Cook

    1 hour


By Amethyst Ganaway

Published on May 12, 2023

“Stew means something special in the Lowcountry,” says Charleston, South Carolina-based chef Amethyst Ganaway. “These smothered seafood dishes appear in a lot of those old spiral-bound fishermen’s wives’ cookbooks, but I added dawadawa and crawfish powder to this recipe, to tie it back to West African culture, where coastal communities use smoked fish to create umami.” Dawadawa, or iru, are fermented locust beans, a popular condiment in Nigerian-style soups and stews; many West African techniques and ingredients are essential aspects of Gullah Geechee cooking. Carolina Lowcountry stews often employ bacon or smoked pork for flavor, but Ganaway wanted to accentuate the freshly shucked local oysters in her meatless version; she also added rich seasonings including sun-dried tomato powder, bay leaf powder, and smoked chipotle powder. This Lowcountry brown oyster stew recipe was a highlight during a dinner Ganaway cooked at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival to honor such Gullah Geechee culinary matriarchs as Emily Meggett and Sallie Ann Robinson. 

Look for crawfish powder or dried shrimp powder at a Caribbean or African grocer, or online. Caribbean bay leaf powder, dawadawa, and sun-dried tomato powder can also be found online. When shucking the oysters, reserve the liquor (the juice that gets released from inside the shells) to incorporate the briny flavor into the stew. Season the brown oyster stew with more salt as needed before serving.


  • 2 tsp. toasted benne (sesame seeds)
  • ½ tsp. ginger powder
  • ½ tsp. lemongrass powder
  • 4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1½ Tbsp. sun-dried tomato powder
  • 2 tsp. Caribbean bay leaf powder, or 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. ground dawadawa
  • 1½ tsp. crawfish powder or dried shrimp powder
  • 1½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1½ tsp. onion powder
  • 1½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 2 pints shucked fresh oysters
  • 6 cups seafood stock, vegetable stock, or water
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion sprouts or chives


Step 1

To a large skillet set over medium-low heat, add the benne, ginger powder, and lemongrass powder; toast until golden-brown, 3–5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Step 2

In a large pot set over medium-high heat, whisk together the flour, 2 tablespoons of oil, and the butter. Stir continuously until the roux turns a deep chocolate-brown color, about 5 minutes. 

Step 3

Meanwhile, set the empty skillet over medium-high heat and add the remaining oil, celery, and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Step 4

Returning to the pot, turn the heat down to low, then add the tomato powder, bay leaf powder, dawadawa, crawfish powder, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, and chipotle powder. Cook, stirring continuously until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the celery-onion mixture, then slowly pour in the oyster liquor and stock, stirring continuously until all the liquid is incorporated into the roux. Add the salt, turn the heat up to medium-low to bring the stew to a boil, then turn the heat back down to maintain a simmer. Cook until the broth is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon and has reduced by about a third, 40–45 minutes.

Step 5

Remove the stew from the heat, then immediately stir in the oysters (the residual heat will cook them.) Season to taste with more salt as needed. Ladle the brown oyster stew into wide soup bowls, garnish with onion sprouts and the reserved benne seed-ginger-lemongrass mixture, and serve hot.

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