There are many recipes for Oysters Rockefeller in the cookbooks of New Orleans. The dish has been a staple since it was invented in 1899 at Antoine’s restaurant in St Louis Street, and named after the oil baron John D Rockefeller (because the sauce was so rich, according to the restaurant). But the best I’ve eaten are served at Galatoire’s on Bourbon Street, which is probably the greatest of the grand old French-Creole restaurants in the Vieux Carre.
I’ve slightly adapted the recipe published in the excellent Galatoire’s Cookbook* by Melvin Rodrigue, the restaurant’s general manager. These quantities should be sufficient for two dozen oysters, a good first course for four people. If it works—and it did when I made it—the oysters, sealed in their half-shells under the Rockefeller sauce, should be just plump, but still properly moist and not shrunken. The point is not to bake them dry, but to heat them gently under their canopy of anis-flavoured greenery.
Ingredients For the Rockefeller sauce:
8 tablespoons of cooked, chopped and drained spinach—the moisture needs to be squeezed out by hand until no more water runs. Once squeezed it should weigh about 150g.
4 tablespoons well-chopped fennel
1.5 tablespoons well-chopped leek
1.5 tablespoons well-chopped parsley
1.5 tablespoons well-chopped spring onion (green and white parts)
1.5 tablespoons well-chopped celery
3 heaped tablespoons fine, dry breadcrumbs
80g butter, melted
1 tablespoon tomato purée or ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcester sauce
A good pinch of dried thyme, of cayenne pepper, and, if you have it, ground anise
Salt and pepper to taste
5 teaspoons—about 25ml—of Pernod (or, if you have it, the Louisianan pastis Herbsaint)
Two dozen live oysters
Rock salt (optional, see below)
Heat the oven to 350F/180C.
In a food processor, mix and purée all the sauce ingredients except the butter and breadcrumbs. Turn into a large bowl and stir in the butter and breadcrumbs until thoroughly blended. You should have a smooth paste. Taste the mix and check the seasoning: you may want to give it more bite with extra pastis, Worcester sauce or cayenne.
Open the oysters, and keep them on one half of the shell, cutting the flesh free from the shell. Drain away most of their remaining liquor and place them upright and flat in a shallow ovenproof dish or baking tray. Galatoire’s lays them on a bed…