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Classic oysters Rockefeller is one of the great culinary creations

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans, established in 1840 by Alciatore Antoine, is the country’s oldest family-run restaurant.

It is the birthplace of oyster’s Rockefeller, so named by Jules Antoine (son of the restaurant’s owner) for the richness of the sauce. It remains one of the great culinary creations of all time and that original recipe remains a closely guarded Antoine’s secret…though it has been imitated countless times.

This classic dish can be either baked or broiled and usually consists of oysters on the half shell that are topped with a mixture of chopped spinach, butter, breadcrumbs, onions, celery and seasonings. The finished shells are then presented on a bed of rock salt, which keeps them from toppling over. The original oysters Rockefeller was made with watercress, not with spinach as it is today.

Even though I’ve seen many recipes for this classic dish, some using combinations of milk or cream, Parmesan cheese, hollandaise sauce, bacon and even lettuce, I prefer the simple version using a sauce made with spinach, onions, celery, garlic, butter and cracker crumbs. This sauce can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator up to three days.

Classic Oysters Rockefeller

Rock salt

2-3 dozen oysters in their shells, freshly shucked and drained (Use the deeper bottom shell for baking)

6 oz. fresh spinach, stems removed and rinsed

1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter

2 cups finely chopped yellow onions

1/4 cup finely chopped celery

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

2 Tbsps. anise-flavored liqueur, such as Pernod

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup cracker crumbs

In a medium pot, bring one quart of water to a boil. Add the spinach and cook until tender, about 5 minutes; drain in a colander set over a large bowl and reserve 2-1/2 cups of the cooking liquid. Let spinach sit until cool enough to handle, and then finely chop and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium pan over medium-high heat. When foamy, add the onions, celery and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the reserved spinach water, bring to a boil and cook for another minute. Add the chopped spinach, liqueur, salt and pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cracker meal; stir well to combine. Cool completely before using.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread a 1/2-inch layer of rock salt in a large baking pan and across the bottoms of 6 large plates. Arrange the reserved oyster shells in the pan. Place one oyster in each shell and top with 2-3 tablespoons of the sauce, spreading the sauce evenly out to the edge of the shell to completely cover the oyster. Bake until the sauce is lightly browned and the oysters begin to curl around the edges, about 20 minutes.

Using tongs, carefully transfer the hot shells to the salt-covered plates and serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Oysters Rockefeller Casserole

If you enjoy oyster’s Rockefeller, you will enjoy this variation.

1 quart raw oysters

1 stick (4 oz.) butter

1 finely chopped rib celery

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1 pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and drained

1/4 tsp. anise seed

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (not toasted)

1/2 cup cracker crumbs

Salt, fresh ground pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a large casserole dish. Drain the oysters and arrange in a single layer in the bottom of the dish. Melt the butter and sauté the celery and onions until they begin to soften. Add parsley, spinach, anise seed, Worcestershire Sauce, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and cayenne; spread mixture over the oysters. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove; and, if needed, pour off any excess water from the oysters. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and a very thin layer of cracker crumbs. Return to oven for 10 minutes or until slightly browned on top. Makes 4-6 servings.

Fresh Oyster Bisque

12 oz. container fresh oysters, chopped

3 cups milk

1 bay leaf

1 tsp. garlic salt

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Parsley flakes

Dash nutmeg

2 Tbsp. butter

1/4 cup instant mashed potato granules

1 egg, separated

1 can (10-1/2 oz.) condensed tomato soup

Pre-cook oysters, drain and chop. Set oysters aside. Scald milk, seasoning and butter. Stir in instant mashed potato granules. Add small amount of milk mixture to slightly beaten egg yolk, then combine with rest of milk mixture. Stir in condensed tomato soup and blend well. Add chopped oysters and return to low heat. Meanwhile, beat egg white until stiff. Fold beaten egg white into soup. Garnish with parsley flakes and serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.

Podi’s Oyster Stew

1/2 pint oysters

1-1/2 qts. whole milk

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Dash of paprika

Tabasco sauce

1 stick (1/4 lb.) butter

1/2 tsp. onion powder

Drain oysters, saving nectar. In a large pan, combine cold milk, oyster nectar, salt, pepper, 3 dashes of Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, onion salt and bring to a simmer. Do not boil. Add oysters and let simmer about until edges curl, about 2-3 minutes. Place one pat of butter in each stew bowl; add stew and dash of paprika. Makes 4 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.