Oysters Rockefeller was created in 1899 by Jules Alciatore, for his restaurant Antoine's in New Orleans. He gave this dish the appellation "Rockefeller" after oil baron John D. Rockefeller, because the sauce was "so rich". His son, Roy Alciatore, who owned and managed the family restaurant through Prohibition and World War II, contributed a recipe for Oysters Rockefeller to Life Magazine's The Picture Cookbook (published in 1958) that specified spinach, parsley, and onions for the sauce, but this is generally accepted as a misdirection. The restaurant's owners (still descendants of the original family) continue to keep the recipe secret.

Ingredients (serves four as an appetizer, two as a decedant entrée)
  • two dozen oysters on the half shell
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
  • 1/4 cup chopped fennel bulb
  • 2 cups chopped watercress
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley (curly leaf)
  • 1 tsp dried chervil (replace with 1 Tbs chopped fresh, if available)
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon (replace with 1 Tbs chopped fresh, if available)
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • pastis, either Herbsaint (authentic) or Ricard
  • rock salt
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add celery, shallots, and fennel bulb and sauté for five minutes. Add watercress, parsley, and fennel leaf, sauté until the watercress wilts, about three minutes or so. Use a blender to make a coarse puree of the vegetables. At this point you may wish to season the sauce with a little salt (just a pinch), black pepper (a good lot), and/or nutmeg (just a couple of gratings).
Take a pie tin and fill it nearly to the brim with rock salt. Set the shucked oysters cup side down, so that the shell holds the meat of the oyster. (The rock salt is merely to steady the uneven oyster shells, perhaps pie chains would also work.) Cover each oyster with a spoonful of the green sauce, then sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Splash the oysters with pastis.
Broil for just a scant few minutes, until the breadcrumbs just begin to brown and the sauce bubbles. Do not overcook!

This recipe is courtesy of my mother, who started with the one given by Craig Claiborne in The New York Times Cookbook (1961 edition) and made alterations and annotations. She admits to serving Oysters Rockefeller only about once a year, generally as a main course for a special occasion. Over fifteen years of growning consciousness over fats, she never reduced the amount of butter (16 tablespoons, or ½ pound) it calls for. She never even admits to attempting to cut out some of the butter, although in her copy of that cookbook the amount is underlined twice, for emphasis. I recall once finding some of the leftover sauce in the fridge and putting it on toast, which was magnificent; this may have been a formative culinary experience.

Some of the other sources consulted in the writing of this node: