These oysters are as ‘Rich as Rockefeller!’
A few years back we were up in Newport, RI for a wedding. We had a great time and knew we would be back. We stayed in this great B&B- The Marshall Slocum Inn, which we had little expectations for and never expected to enjoy it as much as we did. It’s very serene and peaceful at the Inn- there is something really special about this inn and we were happy we found a room here.
Ok – so what does all this have to do with Oysters? Nothing. I just wanted to give you some background.
We bounced around town enjoying the Newport night life and a local had recommended we head over to Benjamins for a late night bite. So off we went. And there it began….our obsession with oysters rockefeller.
They were so good. They were so good that we ordered them twice that night and before our Saturday afternoon departure, went back and order two more orders- we just couldn’t leave town without having them again!
Well ever since then we have been trying oysters Rockefeller everywhere we go and always left wondering why there is no consistency between restaurants for this seemingly classic recipe? So we started to do some research and it turns out there is a long history, and a bit of a mystery, surrounding the creation of the original oysters rockefeller recipe.
The jist of it:
In 1840 Antoine Alciatore opened the doors to “Antoines” – a French Creole restaurant in New Orleans. Antoine’s was a thriving restaurant that specialized in amongst other things, escargot. After Antoine’s death, his son Jules Alciatore took over as head chef and the restaurant continued to thrive.
On a late night in 1899, a hungry unnamed person ordered Antoine’s Escargot, but the Escargot had been 86’d. (That means they ran out.) Not discouraged but certainly disappointed, he asked the chef to create him something from the kitchen. It was late, and only scraps of vegetables lay around the kitchen. Inspired by the butter and herb mixture used to make the escargot, the chef combined these scraps with Oysters and baked them. Upon tasting the dish the hungry man exclaimed, “Why this is as rich as Rockefeller!” Thus, the legend of oysters rockefeller was born.
Jules Alciatore went to his grave with the original recipe that was born that night. However, Antoine’s restaurant is still turning out the same dish to this very day in New Orleans. They keep their recipe a secret and it seems that no one will ever know how close todays version is to the one created that night back in 1899.
With this story as our inspiration, we got to thinking. What ingredients were available in New Orleans in 1899? What would have been in the kitchen? Antoine’s was almost 60 years old when they invented Oyster Rockefeller- 60 years! This means they had established dishes, recipes, clientele, and chefs. That would have played a part in the creation. There are numerous reports of it being a bright green color, which if you have ever seen escargot before it is cooked, you know this is common with this dish as well. Was that all it was- the recipe for escargot applied to oysters? Or was there more to it? We think a little bit of both. The escargot sauce elevated with likely less garlic and the addition of new herbs and greens to compliment the briny taste and delicate texture of the oyster. You must keep in mind- Oysters were a main source of food in America dating back to the first settlers. Oysters were plentiful all over the United States, and even were shipped on trains before beef was shipped. The point here is that the chef at Antoines knew how to cook Oysters. He was a talented chef who knew how to handle oysters and how to cook traditional french snails. He most likely simply adapted the classic escargot recipe that Antoine’s had been severing for 60 years and there you have it.
Only one thing left to do.. try it ourselves. We tested a few different approaches including with cream and without, with cheese and without, with spinach and without. Here is what we discovered in our test kitchen that night- they were all really good!
I mean, lets face it- we were roasting oysters with garlic and butter and topping them with amazing cheese. The results proved that all combinations were fabulous and there really is no wrong way to make these.
With the realization that no oyster baked with butter, herbs and cheese in any combination was ever going to disappoint, we ditched all the recipes out there and Oysters Rockabrett was born!
When selecting oysters to roast or grill, tell your fish monger you are looking for oysters with a belly shape, not flat ones. This will provide a plumper cooked oyster and also keep them protected in the shell while roasting and prevent them from drying out.
These baked oysters are succulent and rich and oh so delicious!
- 1 stick butter
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (and/or any combination of basil, tarragon or chives)
- 1/8 cup minced celery with leaves (optional, but recommend!)
- 2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 ounces gruyere cheese (or similar nutty cheese)
- Sprinkle of breadcrumbs- optional
- 12-24 fresh oysters (in the shell)
If you have a oyster roasting pan now is the time to use that! If you don’t, prepare a baking sheet with a roasting grate to support the oysters, or make a bed of dried rice or rock salt to nestle the oysters into on the sheet pan to keep them supported so they do not spill their liquor or the butter sauce you will add.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Open the oysters with an oyster knife. (if you don’t know how to safely do this, don’t make this recipe!)
Meanwhile, melt together the butter, herbs, shallots, lemon zest, garlic and a dash of salt and pepper. (Feel free to add a dash of white wine) Be careful not to burn the butter sauce but cook it enough to cook down the shallots and garlic.
Once all oysters are in place on your roasting tray, add a heaping teaspoon of the melted butter mixture on top of each oyster. Top with about a teaspoon of shredded cheese followed by a pinch of breadcrumbs, if using.
Roast the oysters until the the oysters are just cooked through and the cheese is melted and turning golden brown. (About 8 to 10 minutes) Serve immediately.
If your cheese is not browning or you really want a nice dark brown color, Put the oysters on broil for the last 2 minutes.