Secrets to a Better Oyster Chowder

Ben Sargent at Swan Oyster Depot

Swan Oyster Depot is my favorite place to stop by when I’m in San Francisco. It’s a San Francisco institution that’s been serving nothing but seafood since 1912. Leaving aside the fact that this was the only place I got skunked on the fishing, I still hold strong to my belief that San Fran has some of the best seafood in the entire world.  And who better to help me prove this point than Tommy Sancimino, owner of Swan Oyster Depot?

I was determined to learn the secret to Tommy’s “off-the-menu oyster chowder.” It’s a dish known to locals, but it’s extremely hard to come by if you are not in the know. It’s quite possibly the best stew I have ever tasted in my life.

The recipe comes from the Sancimino brothers’ father. And while Tommy wouldn’t reveal the exact recipe, I did come away with a few tips to help make my own chowder a little better.

Ben Sargent at Swan Oyster Depot

The base of his chowder uses milk instead of cream to keep it light. Most people go to heavy with their base and overwhelm the flavor of the seafood. Butter and a little marsala finish off the base. Potatoes and onions add heft, but the real star is the fresh oysters (and their juice) that make up the stew. Tommy advises not adding the oysters too soon so they don’t shrivel up. And he increases the seafood flavor with the addition of crab meat and prawns.

From there, I’m going to have undergo a delicious experiment on my own to try to replicate the recipe. But if you’d rather leave it to the professionals, just stop on by Swan, head to the bar, and ask for Tommy.  If you ask nicely, you just might get lucky enough to taste this treat for yourself.

Good luck!

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