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Oysters Rockefeller consists of oysters on the half-shell that have been topped with various other ingredients (often parsley and other green herbs, a rich butter sauce and bread crumbs) and are then baked or broiled.
Oysters Rockefeller was created at the New Orleans restaurant Antoine's. Antoine's was founded in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore, who moved to New Orleans after two frustrating years in New York trying to open a restaurant of his own. It is the country's oldest family-run restaurant. The dish was created in 1899 by Jules Alciatore, son of the restaurant's founder.
The dish was named Oysters Rockefeller after John D. Rockefeller, the richest American at the time, for the intense richness of the sauce. Though the original recipe is a secret, the sauce is known to be a puree of a number of green vegetables other than spinach. It consists of oysters on the half-shell topped with the sauce and bread crumbs and then baked. Jules Alciatore developed Oysters Rockefeller in the face of a shortage of French snails, substituting the locally available oysters for snails. Antoine's has been serving the original recipe dish since 1899. It is estimated that Antoine's has served over three million, five hundred thousand orders.
Though many New Orleans restaurants serve dishes purporting to be Oysters Rockefeller, Antoine's claims that no other restaurant has been able to successfully duplicate the recipe. Knock-off versions of the dish have proliferated in New Orleans, developed to capitalize on the fame of Antoine's signature dish, but because the recipe for Oysters Rockefeller was passed down from the creator, Jules Alciatore of Antoine's to his children, and has apparently never left the family's hands, competing restaurants have had to formulate their own recipes.
Alton Brown of the Food Network series Good Eats states in the episode titled "Shell Game" that Jules Alciatore took the original recipe with him to the grave, and any version of the recipe that exists today is only an assumption, based on descriptions of the original dish. While many have achieved the trademark green color of the original—a color easily attainable by using spinach in the recipe—it is said that few get the flavor of Antoine's recipe right. Antoine's chefs have repeatedly denied that the authentic recipe contains spinach. A 1986 laboratory analysis by William Poundstone in Bigger Secrets indicated that the primary ingredients were parsley, pureed and strained celery, scallions or chives (indistinguishable in a food lab), olive oil, and capers.
Malcolm Hébert, native Louisianan, cookbook author and wine and food editor, also indicates that the original recipe did not have spinach and he gives a slightly different version and adds the all-important ingredient Herbsaint (or substitute Pernod) and that it is not possible that Herbsaint was in the original 1899 recipe, as Herbsaint was first made in 1935. However, Pernod easily pre-dates the year Oysters Rockefeller was created. It is likely the 1899 recipe actually included absinthe, for which Herbsaint later became a substitute.