What are oysters Rockefeller?
Oysters Rockefeller are an iconic appetizer of New Orleans cuisine. This oyster recipe is reminiscent of the French recipe of escargot with herb butter. A preparation based on aniseed alcohol, spinach leaves, butter, parsley and breadcrumbs that are sautéed together and then placed on oysters before baking in a hot oven.
The cultural and historical connection that exists between Louisiana and France is not innocent. Indeed many markers of French cuisine are found in Louisiana and for good reason, since this state bears its name in tribute to Louis, King of France.
The original recipe is Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans at 713 St. Louis Street. It is claimed that its inventor, Jules Alciatore, took the real recipe to his grave and that the various chefs who worked in the restaurant’s kitchen since then would only interpret the original recipe that has now disappeared.
How to make oysters Rockefeller
To prepare good oysters Rockefeller, you need fresh and rather fleshy oysters. They shrink when baked, so it is necessary that they are not too small to begin with. These must be gently opened with a small oyster knife or paring knife.
The safest and easiest technique to open oysters is to hold the oysters in one hand with a glove or a towel. The tip of the knife held in the other hand must then enter from the side while keeping the flat side of the blade well pressed against the upper part of the shell to avoid cutting the oyster in half. By practicing a movement back and forth, the blade must cut the nerve of the oyster. It will then open simply by practicing a small movement of leverage.
The first water must be discarded and the oyster must be put to rest for a few minutes so that it produces a second water that can be consumed. Ideally, you should open the oysters at the last moment to keep them as fresh as possible, and this is the same for any shellfish that must be consumed alive.
Contrary to a common belief, contact with ice reduces the taste of shellfish and tends to make them die of cold. It is best to keep them in a refrigerator on a plate covered with a cloth that is slightly damp and thin so that they can continue to breathe. The oysters can be kept up to 4 days in the lowest part of the refrigerator.
If they are meant to be eaten raw, it is best to eat them as quickly as possible. In the case of the Rockefeller oyster recipe, a few days are fine. In Louisiana, you can also find canned smoked oysters on a toast with a little cream cheese.
For the oysters Rockefeller, the second water must be reserved separately, oysters detached from their shells to be easier to eat and shells perfectly dried. Separately, buttered spinach leaves are dropped with Tabasco, parsley, Pernod (aniseed liquor) and bread crumbs.
Once this mixture is well cooked, it is pressed through a sieve so that it is homogeneous and is allowed to cool. A baking sheet is then prepared by coating it with coarse salt and the grill (or salamander) is preheated. You then place each oyster in its shell with a little juice and topped with herb butter covering the entire oyster and all the inside of the shell.
The whole thing can then be toasted in the oven until the preparation is bubbling. The oysters Rockefeller are then harmoniously arranged on a plate, decorated with lemon and parsley and tasted hot as an appetizer.
What is the origin of oysters Rockefeller?
Oysters Rockefeller are the creation of Jules Alciatore, owner of Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans and son of the founder of this legendary place. Due to a shortage of snails, a favorite among gourmets at the restaurant, Alciatore Jr. had the idea of replacing them with oysters, the latter being plentiful and cheap in New Orleans. So much so that the pavement of the old Louisiana roads was once made from crushed oyster shells.
The oysters Rockefeller recipe is thus very much inspired by the French recipe of the herb and butter snails that once dominated the city’s upper class. The so-called “Rockefeller” name comes from John D. Rockefeller nicknamed the richest American of his time. Famous industrialist, philanthropist and founder of the dynasty that bears his name, he once represented the very image of the “self-made man” and embodied perfectly the concept of American dream.
Legend has it that John D. Rockefeller in town would have tasted and eaten Antoine’s oysters. The recipe would have taken its name.
However the original oysters Rockefeller recipe remains very controversial. According to William Poundstone’s 1986 laboratory analysis for Bigger Secrets, oysters Rockefeller from Antoine’s would contain parsley, celery, green onions, chives, olive oil and capers, but not necessarily spinach. Moreover, Antoine’s successive chefs have said many times that the authentic recipe does not contain any.
Nowadays, oysters Rockefeller are a la carte at most restaurants in the French Quarter, which is very popular with tourists, but many more authentic bars offer modernized or revisited versions of this appetizer.
It is not uncommon to taste some oysters with a local cocktail like the very famous Sazerac invented also in New Orleans by French expatriate Antoine Amédée Peychaud, pharmacist and creator of the bitter of the same name.
What are the variants of oysters Rockefeller?
Oysters Rockefeller can be prepared in a variety of ways. Sometimes you can find versions with bacon or even cheese. Some preparations are also enriched with fennel and celery stalks. Spinach can also be replaced by chard. Tarragon can also be used in the herb butter, along with chervil or chives.
Alcohol may vary from place to place, and may include pastis, martini, gin, anisette but also some bitters much appreciated in New Orleans such as Angostura or Peychaud.
For those who do not like oysters, this recipe can also be prepared with mussels, clams or even razor shells or simply with delicious snails. You can also use this herb butter on a chicken fillet or on white fish by melting it at the last moment.
Oyster recipes are numerous, some prepare them with a champagne sabayon and comté cheese. Others with a fragrant watercress sabayon. They can also be browned with bacon, some sausages and all kinds of cheeses. These fillings can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer just like oysters Rockefeller butter. The ideal is to freeze it flat on a plate so you can cut the desired shape with a knife or a cookie cutter and garnish any shell at the right time.
- 36 fresh oysters medium size
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 3 oz. fresh spinach finely chopped
- 3 scallions with 1 inch of green stem finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- 5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- Tabasco sauce to taste
- ½ spoonful of Pernod or other anise liquor
- 1 lb gemstone salt
- Lemons for garnish
- Using an oyster knife, open the oyster shells and detach the flesh.
- Discard the upper shells.
- Rub and dry the lower shells.
- Drain the oysters over a salad bowl and reserve their juice.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter.
- Add the spinach, scallions, parsley, bread crumbs, Tabasco sauce, and anise liquor.
- Cook over low-medium heat, stirring constantly for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat.
- Pass the mixture through a sieve.
- Let cool.
- Preheat the oven grill.
- Line a baking dish with a 1 inch layer of rock salt.
- Moisten the salt with water very lightly.
- Place the oysters in the salt.
- Pour some reserved juice on each oyster.
- Pour an equal amount of the spinach mix prepared on each oyster and spread it to the edge of the shell.
- Grill in the oven for about 5 minutes or until the filling is bubbling.
- Arrange the oysters in a tray and garnish them with parsley and lemon wedges.
- Serve immediately.