February 7, 2018
Oysters Rockefeller Has Carolina Cousins
Coastal Review Online
inspiration for the famous American dish Oysters Rockefeller had
nothing to do with oysters or billionaire oil tycoon John D.
Rockefeller and certainly not with North Carolina foodways, except that
the dish is so enduring many chefs along the state’s shore serve a
version of their own.
on the half shell crowned with a buttery roux full of chopped, fresh
herbs and then broiled until the topping becomes just crusty was
invented at the legendary New Orleans restaurant Antoine’s.
year was 1899. Rockefeller controlled the nation’s oil industry
while Antoine’s chef Jules Alciatore faced a shortage of French snails.
He needed an escargot substitute.
in Paris, Alciatore took the idea of France’s classic escargots à la
Bourguignonne recipe, which relies on butter and herbs, and applied it
to oysters. He added some twists and named his new, ultra-rich dish
after the richest man in America.
apparently never tried the creation. It was a hit, nonetheless, and
remains on menus nationwide to this day, even though the recipe is
Alciatore on his deathbed reportedly demanded eternal secrecy from all
who knew just exactly what went into that shell,” according to the book
“New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories”
(University Press of Mississippi, 2009).
owners still honor Alciatore’s order, but longtime New Orleans food
writer Tom Fitzmorris is certain the recipe he published in his 2006
book “Tom Fitzmorris’ New Orleans Food: More Than 250 of the City’s
Best Recipes” is as close as any cook can hope to get to the original
analysts generally agree Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s contain
butter, parsley and bread crumbs. Fitzmorris expands the list to
celery, green onion, watercress, fennel and other seasonings including
ketchup and New Orleans’ own Peychaud’s Bitters, created in 1830.
reported that Bernard Guste, the fifth-generation proprietor of
Antoine’s, declared the recipe “embarrassingly close to the real thing.”
in 1912, Winnipeg Free Press writer Jane Eddington claimed to have been
handed the recipe by Alciatore himself, according to research at
is extremely reluctant about giving away the secrets of his kitchen,
but after some coaxing he was induced to part with the following while
slowly sipping his cognac after luncheon,” Eddington wrote in the March
27, 1912, edition of the Canadian newspaper.
en Coquille a la Rockefeller–Raw oysters with a dressing made as
follows, the quantity of the ingredients to depend upon the size of the
order. One bunch of shallots, one bunch of parsley, two pounds of
butter, one bottle of Spanish walnuts, half a bunch of tarragon leaves,
two stale loaves of French bread, salt and pepper, and a liberal
sprinkling of tabasco sauce. All of these things are pounded into a
pulp in a mortar, and then ground in a sausage machine, the mass being
finally passed through a needle sifter. The oysters on the half shell
are covered with the sauce and then placed in a hot oven to bake just
three minutes. The oysters must be served at once.”
Was Alciatore pulling Eddington’s leg? Was Guste trying to keep Fitzmorris off track. Who knows?
certain is that Oysters Rockefeller is not what most restaurants today
pass off as the real thing: oysters baked under a blanket of creamed
spinach, bacon and parmesan cheese. It seems Alciatore’s secret recipe
inspired a baked oysters craze that takes on many forms.
Along the North Carolina coast, Oysters Rockefeller has lots of cousins.
versions that feel most like a taste of the Carolina coast feature
local, salty oysters and collards that grow so well in the region’s
sandy soil. Creamed collards and onion bacon jam top baked oysters at
City Kitchen in Beaufort. The Boiler Room menu in Kinston lists Oyster
Boilerfeller wearing collards, bacon, spicy tomato and shaved Parmesan.
Visitors to the Outer Banks food festival Taste of the Beach 2018 will be treated to Oysters Rockefeller made with arugula, gouda cheese and tasso ham March 22 at Outer Banks Brewing Station.
and roasted garlic go on Oysters Mon Louis at Ocracoke Oyster Co. on
Ocracoke Island. Fresh spinach, peppered bacon, gorgonzola and white
wine cream sauce is the combination at Provisions in Southern Shores.
Pinpoint in Wilmington, baked oysters are served three ways:
Rockefeller, with wilted greens, Benton’s bacon and Pernod; Piperade,
with chilis and cornbread; and Hollandaise, with blue crab and whey hot
oysters at The Pilot House, also in Wilmington, mean smoky morsels
beneath butter, parmesan, garlic, panko crumbs, lemon, hot sauce,
cayenne, and chives. Years ago, the restaurant served a different riff
on Oysters Rockefeller. Chefs spooned tender, chopped collards into the
half shells and then laid the oysters on the greens. Country ham, blue
cheese and chopped pecans were the finishing touches, a masterpiece
that surely would have inspired Alciatore himself.