This year we decided to stay home for Thanksgiving and not cook. All of our children are spending time with the other grandparents, and we are pleased that they can all get together. Our friends are doing overnights at local but interesting places. We’re filling up boxes; cooking/cleaning up was the last thing that either of us wanted to do. Our neighborhood bistro had an offer that was tough to pass up: complete turkey dinner with clam chowder, salad, all the fixin’s, and five choices of pie all boxed up. That’s what we decided to do, but somehow Thanksgiving seemed to call out for a little bit more. (Isn’t that the nature of Thanksgiving?)
We always like oysters at the holidays, and oysters Rockefeller is one of our favorites. Then I thought how about baked eggs instead? (I had been reading Michel Roux’s beautiful little book, Eggs.) Then I thought, how about combining the two? So that’s what I did.
Oysters Rockefeller is a New Orleans classic that has become popular all over the country. The dish was invented in 1899 by Jules Alciatore, the son of the founder of Antoine’s, the famous French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans. The story his great-grandson tells is that Alciatore was looking for a luxurious dish, but one that would incorporate extra table garnishes like scallions, parsley, and celery. The most “luxurious” name he could think of was Rockefeller who was then the richest man in the world. Rockefeller was never really served oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s. No matter. The name stuck.
To this day, the original recipe is a closely guarded family secret. The family swears that Antoine’s oysters Rockefeller contain not a single shred of spinach. That is an interesting assertion, because recipes for the dish are plentiful. Almost all include spinach. There are three separate versions in the legendary River Road Recipes of the Baton Rouge Junior League. Every one includes spinach. So does mine. Obviously, I am not privy to the family secret.
There are a couple of cooking notes. First, it is important to cook the spinach sauce over as low a flame as possible. It is very easy to scorch it, and then it is ruined. Second, you can choose not to use the water bath with the baked eggs, but you then run the risk of having tough egg whites instead of the custard-like fusion of cream and egg white. The water bath is the same technique as you might use with panna cotta, flan, baked custard, etc. The contents of the cooking vessel are cooked more evenly than they would be when depending upon uneven air circulation in the oven.
Here is a twist on my version of oysters Rockefeller with the added fillip of baked eggs.
Oysters Rockefeller with Baked Eggs
- 6 strips bacon
- ¼ cup panko
- butter, softened
- 4 scallions
- ½ cup Italian parsley leaves, stems removed
- 1 rib celery, strings removed
- 9 ounce package frozen spinach
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 6 ounce jar oysters, about 4-6 medium with liquor
- water as needed
- 2 teaspoons Pernod
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 dash or to taste Tabasco (optional)
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 4 tablespoons heavy cream
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
- boiling water for the water bath
- Sauté the bacon until it is browned and completely rendered. Cool and drain on paper towels, chop, and set aside.
- In a small, dry skillet, lightly brown the panko, being careful not to burn. Set aside.
- Butter the insides of 4 ramekins and arrange in a baking pan with tall sides that has been lined on the bottom with waxed paper or parchment.
- Chop the scallions, parsley, and celery finely. Cook the spinach according to package instructions. Squeeze the cooked spinach with your hands to remove as much water as possible. Chop the spinach finely.
- Combine the scallions, parsley, celery, and spinach in a food processor. Pulse 6 to 10 times, enough to mince the vegetables but not so much as to purée them. The vegetables should retain some of their texture.
- In a small saucepan, melt the unsalted butter, add the flour, and cook over very low heat for about 5 minutes until the flour is cooked and the mixture forms a smooth paste. Stir in the liquor from the jar of oysters.
- Add the minced vegetables. You may need a little extra water to form a thick sauce. Add the Pernod. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add optional Tabasco. Cook, covered, over the very lowest heat for 1 hour. Stir frequently. Do not let the mixture come to the boil.
- When you are ready to assemble, arrange one oyster in each of the ramekins. Divide the spinach sauce equally among the four ramekins and spread gently to cover the oysters. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of crumbled bacon, reserving enough to top the dish.
- One by one, break the eggs into a small dish. Slide an egg onto the top of each oyster and sauce. Repeat until all four ramekins have been assembled. Pour 1 tablespoon of cream over each egg, being careful not to cover the yolk. Sprinkle on the remaining bacon along with Parmesan and panko.
- Pour boiling water into the baking pan around the ramekins, being careful not to get water into the dishes. Place the pan with the ramekins in the middle of an oven that has been pre-heated to 325°F (165°C). Bake for 14 minutes or until the egg whites have set, but the yolks are still runny. Remove from the oven. The eggs will continue to cook after you have removed them from the oven. Serve immediately.