09 February 2009

Oysters Rockefeller

On Saturday we made Oysters Rockefeller. It was on the list — the list of foods and dishes that we want to remember to make and enjoy eating one day soon, when we get around to it. Still on the list are clams casino, for example, along with brandade de morue, alouettes sans tête, and British steak and kidney pie.

Fines de claire no. 3 from the Ile d'Oléron

So it was time to make Oysters Rockefeller. We went to the market in Montrichard on Friday and bought two dozen « fines de claire » oysters, no. 3 in size (medium), from a man who brings them up here from the little fishing port called La Cotinière on the Ile d'Oléron. Fines de claire are oysters that have been fattened in salt ponds for at least a month before being taken to market. The man was selling them for €3.90 a dozen.

Stuff the oysters with a spinach mixture.

I looked around on the Internet for recipes and found several (here's one). I also looked in the Joy of Cooking and in one of Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana cookbooks. Prudhomme didn't have a recipe, but Joy did. They say Oysters Rockefeller was first concocted at the famous New Orleans restaurant called Antoine's, but that restaurant keeps its recipe a secret.

Here's the Joy of Cooking recipe.

Most of the recipes call for stuffing raw oysters on the half-shell with a mixture of spinach, shallots or green onions, bread crumbs, butter, parsley, crumbled bacon, and a little melted butter, Tabasco sauce, and Pastis (the anise-flavored alcohol). Some say to add some watercress and ground fennel seeds, and some even say don't use spinach at all, just parsley and other fresh herbs. Some reports say Antoine's version never used spinach.

You buzz the spinach and other ingredients up in a food processor until you have a thick, finely chopped mixture that is almost a paste. You open the oysters and lay them out in their bottom shell on a rack or on a layer of coarse salt on a baking sheet (so they won't fall over). And then you bake them for about 10 minutes in a 450ºF/230ºC oven.

Sprinkle grated cheese over the top and put them in a hot oven.

Oh, another optional ingredient is grated parmesan, which you sprinkle on top of the stuffed oysters before putting them in the oven. We had just bought some Parmigiano Reggiano and some Pecorino Romano at Intermarché up in Contres (it was part of a special sale of Italian products in that supermarket chain last week), so we used a blend of those on our oysters.

Oysters Rockefeller — the Saint-Aignan version

So the pictures show the result. I had never made Oysters Rockefeller before, and I'm not sure I will ever make them again. I won't say it was a waste of good oysters — but on some level, that's what I was thinking as we ate them. Walt said he thought this was a way for people who don't really like oysters to say that they eat them.

The taste is pretty much obliterated by the cheese, pastis, and hot-pepper sauce. I used frozen spinach, but I don't think fresh would have made much difference, considering all the strong flavors in the mixture. I think I overdid the bacon too — what I used was thick sliced poitrine fumée, and it was very salty. I should have blanched it before I grilled and then diced it.

So here I am thinking of ways to improve a recipe I just said I might never try again.

Anyway, give me a raw oyster on the half-shell any day. With just a few drops of lemon juice or shallot vinegar, some black pepper, and some bread and butter. And of course a good glass of Muscadet wine. That's a lot less trouble to make — either way, you have to shuck the oysters, and that's the hardest part — and it's more delicious if you like raw oysters.


  1. Ken

    We also prefer to eat our oysters raw, with just a squeeze of lemon. Like you, we're not overly fussed with oyster recipes, but if we buy a box of 3 doz we have the leftovers next morning for breakfast, grilled with just a sliver or two of saucisson sec on top.

    When you get around to the English component of your "things to cook" list, try Steak and Kidney pudding rather than steak and kidney pie.

    SO much yummier!

  2. It all sounds great but I agree with Simon - Steak and Kidney Pudding is by far the best, if you haven't tried it then this is the time - it is definitely a very popular English winter dish. If you need the recipe - let me know.



  3. I quite agree about the oysters - such a lot of extra fuss for the sake of it (sounds typical of the late 19th and early 20th century).

    Personally I don't care for kidneys, and would rather have a steak-and-mushroom pie or pudding. The suet pudding method, by the way, is almost infinitely adaptable: as well as puddings in a bowl (for which you can equally well use fruit - try a whole lemon with lots of brown sugar), try rolling out a suet crust pastry and rolling it up with slices of bacon or any leftover cooked meats, or with cheese and onion, or jam. All good winter comfort food. The key is to let it steam for a good long time.

  4. Carol, thanks, I would love to have the recipe. I can't even imagine what steak and kidney pudding is.

    Patrick, I might like steak and mushroom pie better too, but I am okay with kidneys. So I will try it. But mostly I have cooked lamb kidneys, not calves'. Walt is so good at making crusts that we won't have any trouble with that. I kind of like the idea of steak and kidney in a brown sauce, a little like bœuf bourgignon in a pastry crust.

  5. Romanoff style is better I think as it does not hide the taste of the oyster - the bar we used to get them just topped high quality oysters with creme fraice, a bit of caviar and chives - voila!! I agree tho that plain are best with a bit of lemon only - will never forget buying them in Cancale from the ladies there - sitting by the sea and slurping away!! one of the top 10 of France times we have had!!

  6. Cooking oysters is the worst deadly sin I can imagine! But you never know if you never try.

    Word verification is bleds: that where I live!

  7. If you're ever looking for an even more complex way to cook a perfectly good oyster, try Oysters Bienville:


    More popular with the locals than Rockefeller...

  8. Thanks for the nolacusine site, John. There is a lot of good stuff there. I may have to start making Louisiana sausages.

  9. Bonjour CHM, you'd be surprised how often oysters are served in a cooked state in France these days. But like you, I'm conservative in such matters! Amitiés, et bonjour à J.L. Ken

  10. I do NOT like oysters. No no no. Raw or cooked. Just don't like the texture or anything about them. My language story relating to them:
    When I was an au pair, we were all in out in the country at the partially renovated old farm house, with grandparents and some other inlaws. My family was preparing the menu for Christmas Eve dinner, and they said that les huîtres were traditional... so asked me (in French, of course), "Do you like les huîtres Judith?" I did the usual au pair head spinning as I tried to be sure that I understood all of the words they were saying to me, especially spinning that word les huîtres. Ahhhh, I said to myself, that's shrimp! Yummmm yummmm! So I answered, "Oui, oui, j'adore les huîtres!" When the late-night dinner hour arrived, I sat down excitedly at the table and saw, in front of me, a plate full of raw oysters! And, what did the 2 folks who did NOT like raw oysters have in front of them? Lobster and shrimp! My favorites! *LOL* So, I had to be polite and eat my oysters... everyone was so proud to be offering their guests such a beautiful dish :)) Luckily, since I had been feeling under the weather, I was able to remain gracious while offering the last 3 or 4 to the brother in law who was sitting next to me, pleading lack of appetite due to sore throat :))


  11. That's funny, Judy. You were very polite. I'm sorry you didn't get the lobster and shrimp!


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