Photo: William Dickey
History of Oysters Rockefeller
There is much ado over the original recipe for Oysters Rockefeller. We do know that is was invented by Jules Alciatore, the second-generation proprietor of Antoine's restaurant in New Orleans. We don't know, however, what exactly went into the original dish—just that there was a wealth of bright green herbs and it was rich, like John D. Rockefeller himself.
In restaurants today, we find a host of impostors, such as oysters masked in Parmesan cheese, parading around with pale artichoke hearts, or cavorting with achovy paste.
What are Oysters Rockefeller?
These variations, although often delicious, are not the true taste of Oysters Rockefeller. A true Rockefeller is bold and strong with freshly blended ingredients including parsley, celery leaf, and fennel bulb. The addition of anise-flavored liqueur such as Pernod only enhances the green herbaceous flavor.
Over the years, there has also been the spinach versus watercress debate for this dish. We prefer, when in season, the edgy bite of crisp watercress. But if you favor spinach and no celery leaves or tarragon and no chervil, trust your taste buds and use what you like. When making these baked oysters, it is most important to choose the freshest oysters and the freshest herbs available.
Our Oysters Rockefeller recipe, adapted from a wealth of provocative recipes, rated very highly in our Test Kitchen. It seems that this classic Southern taste, which has incited such debate, must be worth trying at least once.
But Are Oysters Safe?
Cooked oysters are generally safe to eat. Raw oysters, though, can harbor a variety of ills, among them Norwalk virus, which causes stomach upset and hepatitis (though such occurrences are extremely rare.) A naturall occurring bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, has caused serious illness and death in a number of people.
The seafood industry has come up with different ways to treat raw oysters to kill the bacteria called post-harvest processing or PHP. Oysters can be frozen, treated with hydrostatic pressure, or pasteurized. Oysters treated this way are designated virtually bacteria-free by the FDA. If you are concerned about eating raw ones, ask your seafood market to order post-harvest processed oysters. In a restaurant, ask if the oysters have been post-harvest processed. If not, order cooked oysters instead.