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Oysters Rockefeller History & Recipe For National Oysters Rockefeller Day

Oysters Rockefeller
[1] Many Oysters Rockefeller recipes look something like this: lots of bread crumbs, some spinach and a bacon garnish. Here’s the recipe from Tide & Thyme (photo © Tide & Thyme).

Oysters Rockefeller With Bacon
[2] Some recipes add bacon and Mornay sauce, a cheese sauce variation of béchamel (photo © Arch Rock Fish).

[3] Oysters Rockefeller at Bonefish Grill have a garnish of diced bacon (photo © Bonefish Grill).

[4] Oysters Rockefeller as currently served at Antoine’s in New Orleans (photo © Antoine’s Restaurant).

  January 10, 2017 was the first-ever Oysters Rockefeller Day.

It was celebrated big-time in New Orleans, where it was first created at Antoine’s Restaurant.

The recipe is below.

> Check out our Oyster Glossary for the different types of oysters.

> The history of oysters.

Oysters Rockefeller was invented in 1899 by Jules Antoine Alciatore at the end of Gilded Age.

Jules was the son of restaurant founder Antoine Alciatore, who passed in 1874 and was succeeded by his wife, then his son.

The restaurant is still going strong in the hands of the fifth generation and is America’s oldest family-run restaurant.

Served as an appetizer or first course, the dish was named after John D. Rockefeller Sr. (1839 – 1937), who is considered to be the wealthiest American of all time and—by a majority of sources—the richest person in modern history.

As necessity is the mother of invention, the dish was created because of a shortage of imported French escargots needed for his father’s signature recipe, Escargots Bourguignon.

That classic French dish features snails in a butter sauce of garlic, parsley, and shallots. Antoine peré had substituted brandy or anise liqueur for the traditional white wine.

With the shortage of snails and the waning interest in escargots, Jules Antoine devised a replacement with local oysters, always available.

The original topping for the grilled oysters is a secret, but is a purée of several green vegetables: flat-leaf parsley, celery leaves, tarragon leaves, chervil and green onions, seasoned with salt, a dash of hot sauce, and anise liqueur.

There was no spinach, the green most often used in copycat versions.

Oysters on the half-shell are topped with the sauce and bread crumbs, and then baked (now often broiled).

They are served as an appetizer, first course, or starter—different terms for the first dish of a multi-course sit-down meal.

Why Oysters “Rockefeller?”

The dish was named for the intense richness of its flavored roux (a paste, not a cream sauce, deemed “rich enough for Rockefeller”—John D. Rockefeller Sr., the richest man in history).

The greens contributed to the color of money. As with the escargots, there was anise liqueur.

From what can be deduced, in Antoine’s original Oysters Rockefeller recipe, oysters on the half shell are topped with herbed bread crumbs, butter and cream, then baked.

The herbs and proportions are secret, but sleuths have determined that they include flat-leaf Italian parsley, celery leaves, tarragon leaves, chervil and green onions. Seasonings included salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

This became a “wow” dish in New Orleans, where oysters were popularly served on the half shell, but not incorporated into complex recipes.

There is no record that Rockefeller (who died of arteriosclerosis) ever ate the dish.
Chefs Make Oysters Rockefeller Variations

A later variation of the recipe substituted spinach for most of the herbs, which is mainstream today.

Some leave off the bread crumbs and purée the green herbs/vegetables, creating a smooth green cloak over the entire oyster.

Some mince the greens and mix them into the bread crumbs.

Over the years, other chefs garnished the recipe with shredded Gruyère or Parmesan, some with a thick layer of melted cheese covering both the oysters and the sauce.

Bacon inevitably worked its way in.

You can make your own signature recipe (more about that below), working off of this template—which of course isn’t the secret recipe, but a re-imagining of Antoine’s recipe by Saveur magazine.



We adapted this recipe from Saveur, which attempted to recreate the original. You can see it in Photo #4, the last photo above.

The oysters are topped with a roux full of herbs and vegetables. Saveur’s variations from the original include:

  • Celery ribs instead of celery leaves.
  • Scallions instead of shallots (scallions are more flavorful; shallots are sweet and mild with a hint of garlic).
  • Cayenne instead of hot sauce.
  • Broiled instead of baked.
    As an appetizer, we prefer three large oysters. If you’re serving a big meal, two will suffice. And, if you’re having a NIBBLE-style eight-course meal, one will do.

    Ingredients For 4-6 Servings

  • 12 fresh oysters, chilled (the larger the better, not Kumamoto)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 6 scallions, minced
  • 2 ribs celery, minced
  • 2 sprigs tarragon, stemmed and minced
  • 1 bunch parsley, stemmed and minced, plus sprigs to garnish
  • 1 tablespoon anisette, Pernod or other anise liqueur
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground white* pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
  • Rock salt
  • Optional garnish: parsley or tarragon sprigs or whatever appeals to you
    We decorated the dishes with slender, red cayenne chiles for color—not meant to be eaten. But two guests ate them nevertheless!
    Variations For Your Signature Oysters Rockefeller

    Here’s our contribution to the recipe. Use one or more of these garnishes to create your own signature version of Oysters Rockefeller. Call it Oysters Rockefeller à la [Your Name].

  • Anchovy paste
  • Anise flair: fennel instead of celery, anise liqueur, optional basil
  • Anise be gone: substitute watercress for the tarragon and brandy, sherry or wine for the liqueur
  • Brandy or white wine instead of the liqueur
  • Bread crumbs: panko, crunchy Japanese bread crumbs, instead of fresh crumbs
  • Gruyère, Jarlsberg or Parmesan (1/4 cup or less)
  • Heatless: nutmeg or Worcestershire sauce instead of cayenne
  • Homage to the original inspiration: escargots instead of oysters
  • Pipe the topping, like Duchess Potatoes
  • Spinach lovers: substitute spinach for 3/4 or more of the parsley
  • Surf and turf: add bacon, pork belly, crisped prosciutto
  • Wild card: add whatever you like!
  •   Oyster On The Half Shell
    [5] Be sure to save the oyster liquor (photo © Pangea Shellfish).

    [6] Tarragon, a popular herb in French cuisine, has an anise-like flavor and aroma (photo © Good Eggs).

    Rock Salt
    [7] Rock salt is a good cushion so that the oyster fillings don’t spill out when cooking and serving. This fine rock salt is great for serving. You can use a coarser version for baking if it’s cheaper (photo © The Bite-Sized Blog).


    1. FILL 2 baking dishes halfway with rock salt. Shuck the oysters over a large measuring cup (e.g. Pyrex with a lip) or bowl to catch their liquor and reserve it (you should have about 1/2 cup). Discard the top shells. Loosen the oysters from the bottoms of their shells with a knife. Nestle 6 shucked oysters in their shells into each bed of rock salt; chill.

    2. MAKE the roux. Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook until smooth, stirring for about 2 minutes. Add the oyster liquor; cook until the mixture thickens into a paste, about 2 minutes.

    3. STIR in the cayenne, scallions, celery, tarragon, parsley, and salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until soft, about 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor, add bread crumbs, and process into a smooth paste, about 2 minutes.

    4. HEAT the broiler to high. Place the paste in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2″ fluted tip. Pipe the paste completely over the oysters. Broil until the paste begins to brown and the oysters are just cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Garnish each plate with parsley sprigs.
    *White pepper has been traditionally used by French-trained chefs, to avoid black specks in white or light-colored dishes. White pepper is the conventional peppercorn, Piper nigrum, with the black husk removed. In addition, much of the piperine—the compound that gives pungency to the peppercorn—is in the black husk.

    Styles change over the centuries. Frankly, we like the specks and the extra flavor from the husk and use black peppercorns universally. So if you don’t have white pepper, simply use black pepper. Here are the different types of pepper, including pink peppercorns, green peppercorns and dozens of others, none of which is Piper nigrum.



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