Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Oysters Hawthorne.

I always like to include history or a story with my food, so today I'm going to talk about Oysters Rockefeller, although I'll be making Oysters Hawthorne.  You'll see Oysters Rockefeller on menus everywhere, but what, exactly, is it?  And is what you see on the menus really Rockefeller?

The answer to the first question is:  Oysters Rockefeller is an oyster dish created in the late 1800s at Antoine's, a restaurant in New Orleans, by Jules Alciatore, son of founder Antoine Alciatore.

The answer to the second question is:  No.  Unless you're at Antoine's.

 Now to the history of this dish:
Back in the 1850s, a specialty dish at Antoine's, the country's oldest family-run restaurant, was Escargot Bourgignon, the snails being imported into New Orleans from Burgundy.  Eventually, snails became difficult to procure and Jules wanted to use a local product, so he chose the succulent Gulf oysters which were readily available and adapted the Snails Bourgignon recipe to accommodate the oysters.  The dish was an immediate success, one patron declaring, "Why, these are as rich as Rockefeller!"  And Oysters Rockefeller was born.

As for the exact ingredients in Oysters Rockefeller, we don't know.  The original recipe is a closely guarded secret.  The ingredients are said to number 18 or 23, depending on your sources, but again, we just don't know.  Originally watercress, not spinach, was used.  And there was no bacon in the dish.  A liqueur is also said to be involved, which probably was absinthe back in the day, but Pernod is probably used now.  Jules Alciatore, on his deathbed, demanded the ingredients and proportions be kept a secret.  Great-great grandson of Jules, Roy Guste, Jr., notes "the sauce is basically a purée of a number of green vegetables other than spinach."  Oyster Rockefeller is believed to start out with a roux, then a bunch of green herbs are added, the whole is puréed, some type of anise liqueur is added, then it's topped with breadcrumbs and baked.  In other words, we don't know.

What we do know is that the original recipe as been imitated, tweeked, and tinkered with so that there are numerous variations.  And I'd be happy to try them all.

Here's my latest variation on what I call Oysters Hawthorne.  It's always evolving.

Oysters Hawthorne vers. 23.1

24 or so oysters, shucked and arranged on tray

The amounts of my ingredients are not etched in stone.  If you happen to prefer one ingredient over another, feel free to adjust accordingly.

1/2 cup chopped spinach 
about 2 TB finely chopped red onion
about 2 TB finely chopped fennel
about 2 TB chopped parsley
Combine spinach, onion, fennel, and parsley

some cooked bacon - maybe 4 strips, chopped

2 TB grated Parmesan
2 TB shredded Sweet Swiss Fair Oaks cheese
Combine cheeses together.

As for the Swiss cheese, I found this particular brand, Fair Oaks, at FoodLion.  And it does have a hint of sweetness which blends well with the oysters.

panko bread crumbs
melted unsalted butter

These oysters were not the saltiest I've ever had, so I put a bare pinch of Hawaiian Alaea Red Sea Salt on each.  Next, top with a teaspoon or so of the spinach mixture, then some cheese mixture.  Lastly, sprinkle with a little panko and drizzle with 1/2 tsp or so of the melted butter.

The thing to remember about oyster toppings is that less is always more.  You don't want to overpower the delicate oysters, so go easy on the toppings.

Place under a 450° broiler until panko is lightly browned.  About 8 minutes.


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