Established in 1840, Antoine’s is considered America’s oldest family-run restaurant and the original Oyster Rockefeller recipe is said to be one of the most sought-after recipes in the world. Even the ex-employees of this restaurant will not talk about how Antoine’s Oysters Rockefeller are made. The original recipe is a closely-guarded Antoine’s secret, though it has been imitated, adapted, and evolved in a host of ways. The original oysters Rockefeller is said to have been made with watercress, not spinach. Jules Alciatore exacted a promise on his deathbed that the exact proportions be kept a secret forever.
This recipe below is the closest recipe to the original classic Oysters Rockefeller that was developed by Roy Alciatore, one of Antoine’s previous owners. I have only slightly adapted the recipe to modern recipe writing standards.
Oysters Rockefeller History:
1850 – Antoine Alciatore, the original owner of Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana, made a specialty dish of snails called Snails Bourgignon which was very popular. The restaurant, located on Rue St. Louis in the New Orleans French Quarter, was opened in 1840, and Antoine’s is the country’s oldest family-run restaurant.
According to Antoine Restaurant’s web site:
In 1874, Antoine being in ill-heath, took leave of his family, with the management of the restaurant in his wife’s hands. He felt he had not much longer to live and wished to die and be buried in his birthplace in France. He told his wife he did not want her to watch him deteriorate and said as he left; “As I take boat for Marseilles, we will not meet again on earth.” He died within the year.
1899 – When Jules Alciatore took over the business, the taste for snails had subsided, and also there was a shortage of French snails. He wanted to use a local product in order to avoid any difficulty in procuring it. He choose oysters and adapted the snail recipe in 1899 to use the gulf oysters.
Jules Alciatore is known as a pioneer in the art of cooking oysters (as they were rarely cooked before this time). According to legend, it is said that a customer exclaimed with delight after eating this dish, “Why, this is as rich as Rockefeller!”
The dish was given the name Rockefeller because the green was the color of greenbacks and the whole dish was so rich that he wanted a name that would signify the “richest in the world.” The first name to come to his mind was John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937), a name once connoted the absolute pinnacle of wealth and position. No other American dish has received so much praise and attention as Oysters Rockefeller.
1980 – Roy F. Guste, Jr., the great-great grandson of Jules Antoine, writes in his book Antoine’s Restaurant Cookbook that “the sauce is basically a puree of a number of green vegetables other than spinach.”
Oysters Rockefeller Recipe:
36 fresh (live) oysters on the half shell*
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons finely-minced fresh spinach leaves
3 tablespoons finely-minced onion
3 tablespoons finely-minced parsley
5 tablespoons homemade bread crumbs
Tabasco Sauce to taste
1/2 teaspoon Herbsaint or Pernod**
1/2 teaspoon salt
Lemon wedges for garnish
* It is best to use small oyster for this recipe. The oysters themselves (not the shells) should be no more than 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Any variety of oysters will work; just make sure the oysters you choose are as fresh as possible, still alive, and tightly closed. Learn how to Shuck Oysters.
** Herbsaint and Pernod are an aniseed flavored spirit, available where liquor is sold.
Using an oyster knife, pry open the oyster shells, then remove the oysters. Discard the top shells; scrub and dry the bottom shells. Drain the oysters, reserving the oyster liquor.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter; add spinach, onion, parsley, bread crumbs, Tabasco Sauce, Herbsaint, and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Press the spinach mixture through a sieve or food mill; let cool. Mixture may be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to use.
Preheat oven broiler. Line an ovenproof plate or platter with a layer of rock salt about 1-inch deep (moisten the salt very slightly). Set oysters in the rock salt, making sure they are level.
Place a little of the reserved oyster liquor on each oyster. Spoon an equal amount of the prepared spinach mixture over each oyster and spread to the rim of the shell.
Broil approximately 5 minutes or until the edges of the oysters have curled and the topping is bubbling. Watch carefully.
Garnish the plates or platter with the parsley sprigs and the lemon wedges. Serve immediately.
Makes 6 servings or 36 appetizers.
Recipe from The Picture Cookbook by Life Magazine.
Glory On The Half-Shell, by Kevin Keating, magazine article in Hemispheres Magazine, January 1997.
Oyster Cookery, by Sharon Montoya-Welsh and Marjorie Speare-Yerxa, published by Shoalwater Kitchen, 1984.
The New Orleans Restaurant Cookbook, by Deirdre Stanforth, published by Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967.