Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Antoine's Best Kept Secret...Oysters Rockefeller

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I was looking for a typical New Orleans recipe to celebrate the Saint's victory at last Sunday's Super Bowl when I came across this earth shattering revelation:  the original recipe for Oysters Rockefeller did not have spinach!   Antoine's, the renown New Orleans restaurant where the recipe was created in  1899 still guards the recipe to such an extent that it does not appear in their cookbook.  I was knocked off  my socks.  Did you know this? Am I, like the cheated wife, the last one to find out?

Oysters Rockefeller is a famous oyster dish served at many restaurants throughout the United States. The dish consists of oysters on the half-shell that have been topped with various other ingredients (often spinach or parsley, cheese, a rich butter sauce and bread crumbs) and are then baked or broiled.  Contrary to whatever you have heard before, the original recipe did not contain spinach!


"Oysters Rockefeller was created at the New Orleans restaurant Antoine's. Antoine's was founded in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore, who moved to New Orleans after two frustrating years in New York to open a restaurant of his own. It is the country's oldest family-run restaurant. The dish was created in 1899 by Jules Alciatore, son of the restaurant's founder.

The Rex Room at Antoine's

The dish was named Oysters Rockefeller after John D. Rockefeller, the richest American at the time, for the richness of the sauce. The original recipe is a secret, the sauce is known to be a puree of a number of green vegetables other than spinach. It consists of oysters on the half-shell topped with the sauce and bread crumbs and then baked or broiled.  Jules Alciatore developed Oysters Rockefeller in the face of a shortage of French snails, substituting the locally available oysters for snails. Antoine's has been serving the original recipe dish since 1899. It is estimated that Antoine's has served over three million, five hundred thousand orders.

Antoine's Large Annex Room

Though many New Orleans restaurants serve dishes purporting to be Oysters Rockefeller, Antoine's claims that no other restaurant has been able to successfully duplicate the recipe. Knock-off versions of the dish have proliferated in New Orleans, developed to capitalize on the fame of Antoine's signature dish, but because the recipe for Oysters Rockefeller was passed down from the creator, Jules Alciatore of Antoine's to his children, and has apparently never left the family's hands, competing restaurants have had to formulate their own recipes.

Alton Brown of The Food Network series Good Eats states in the episode titled "Shell Game" that Jules Alciatore took the original recipe with him to the grave, and any version of the recipe that exists today is only an assumption, based on descriptions of the original dish. While many have achieved the trademark green color of the original — a color easily attainable by using spinach in the recipe — it is said that few get the flavor of Antoine's recipe right. Antoine's chefs have repeatedly denied that the authentic recipe contains spinach. A 1986 laboratory analysis by William Poundstone in Bigger Secrets indicated that the primary ingredients were parsley, pureed and strained celery, scallions or chives (indistinguishable in a food lab), olive oil, and capers.

Malcolm Hebert, native Louisianan, cookbook author and wine and food editor, also indicates that the original recipe did not have spinach  and takes issue with the addition of Herbsaint.  He claims that it is not possible that Herbsaint was in the original 1899 recipe, as it was first made in 1935. However, Pernod which is in many recipes easily pre-dates the year Oysters Rockefeller was created." (Wikipedia)

Wow, what is this world coming to. Next they are going to tell me there is no Santa Claus!

I have now looked  through a bunch of recipes for Oysters Rockefeller searching for more clues  They all use mostly the same ingredients, butter, breadcrumbs, onions, Pernod, spinach, watercress, parsley.  Some add Parmesan cheese at the end and although I seriously doubt this was in the original, I think it adds a nice touch.

There is really nothing to it.  It is the perfect recipe if you want to impress that special someone. Winter is the time for the best oysters and Valentine's Day the perfect occasion.

Congratulations New Orleans Saints on a victory well deserved!

Oysters Rockefeller


4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup bread crumbs, Panko preferred

2 shallots, chopped

2 cups chopped fresh spinach

1/4 cup Pernod

Salt and pepper, to taste

Dash red pepper sauce (Tabasco)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 tablespoon chopped chervil or parsley

2 dozen oysters, on the half shell

Rock salt

Lemon wedges, for garnish


Melt butter in a skillet. Saute the garlic for 2 minutes to infuse the butter. Place the bread crumbs in a mixing bowl and add half the garlic butter, set aside. To the remaining garlic butter in the skillet, add shallots and spinach, cook for 3 minutes until the spinach wilts. Deglaze the pan with Pernod. Season with salt and pepper, add a dash of red pepper sauce. Allow the mixture to cook down for a few minutes. Finish off the bread crumbs by mixing in olive oil, Parmesan and chervil, season with salt and pepper.* Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of the spinach mixture on each oyster followed by a spoonful of the bread crumb mixture. Sprinkle a baking pan amply with rock salt. Arrange the oysters in the salt to steady them. Bake in a preheated 450 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes until golden. Serve with lemon wedges and red pepper sauce.

Make Ahead Note*: 

You can place both mixes in separate baggies and place in the refrigerator until ready to bake.  Go to the fishmonger that day, get him to shuck some oysters for you (talk him into giving you some crushed ice or rock salt) distribute the two mixes on top and bake.  Now, how easy can that be?

Recipe Source:  Tyler Florence


  1. I have oysters all the time and didnt know this tidbit either..no, you are not alone

  2. Great recipe, thanks! I might just try it!!!

  3. I adore oysters, and will definitely order these tasty beauties the next opportunity that I have...

  4. dandelion greens or turnip greens mayhaps. Very southern. and referred to as "greens". ;)

  5. In fact Herbsaint's history goes back many years before 1935: before then, it was made with wormwood (like absinthe). In 1935 the maker stopped using it, in order to comply with an order from the federal government.

  6. Wouldn't it be something, if the secret ingredient was poke salat........


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