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How to Make Oysters Rockefeller Without a Recipe

Here's how you can add your own interpretation of this elusive dish to the mix.
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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: No luck with love this Valentine's Day? Maybe Oysters Rockefeller can help with that. And if not, you'll still have a new dish in your repertoire that you'll want to make even when it's not the most romantic day of the year.

There is some science out there that sets up raw oysters as killer aphrodisiacs. But not every potential lover is turned on by the sight of raw oysters, are they? I’ll typically take a half-dozen on the half shell to taste for mer-oir (like wines and terroir), but I generally prefer my oysters cooked. And my own research (albeit happily limited in scope by my 20-year marriage) shows that cooking oysters doesn’t necessarily kill the romance.

Oysters Rockefeller is a well-known cooked oyster dish. Making it without a recipe is a necessity because the original formula was never actually divulged by its creator. Jules Alciatore, the second-generation chef and owner of Antoine’s in New Orleans, created it at the turn of the twentieth century. He was looking for a laudable replacement for Escargots à la Bourguignonne (snails in garlic-herb butter) on his menu because the European snail trade had become unreliable. He turned to oysters, which were abundant in his neck of the woods at the time. While Alciatore kept his original recipe a secret, countless copycat dishes that have been deemed close matches by tasters of the original are comprised of a smooth, rich, green sauce and an alluring golden-hued topper.

Here's how you can add your own interpretation of this elusive dish to the mix:

1. It all starts with fresh oysters -- a half-dozen per eater to start (or a dozen each if this dish and dessert are all you have planned for the evening). It’s best if the shells are significantly bowl-shaped so there’s room for their natural liquor to mix with the secret sauce.

You'll also need butter, garlic, and bread crumbs for the topping. And to make the sauce, you'll want a whole slew of greens -- I used parsley, celery leaves, green onions, spinach, and kale -- and the flavorings you desire (I like hot sauce for kick and anise-flavored liqueur to add a more complex flavor).

2. Shuck the oysters. Then, carefully nestle them into a bed of rock salt spread on a large baking sheet. Preheat your oven to 450° F and turn on the convection if you’ve got it.

3. Melt a stick of butter per dozen oysters in a large skillet over medium heat. You'll use it to make both the butter base for the sauce and the tonic for the golden bread crumbs that top each oyster. Add 1 tablespoon of a minced allium of your choice (garlic, shallot, leek, onion, or chives) per dozen oysters. Cook, stirring frequently, until you just start to smell the allium.

4. Mix the bread crumb topping. Remove the pan from the heat and take about a third of the flavored butter to moisten 1/4 cup of bread crumbs (fresh or panko work best) per dozen oysters. I also add a small amount of chopped fresh herbs (I like parsley) for freshness.

5. Make the secret green sauce. Put the skillet back over medium heat and for every 12 oysters, add 1/2 cup of finely chopped herbs. You'll want to use herbs that work best when they're softened with a little heat, like a mix of celery and parsley leaves and/or the green tops of scallions.

Sweat those for 2 minutes, then add 2 tablespoons of sweet wine or gentle liquor (I like Pernod or sambuca) per dozen oysters.

6. Add this cooked mixture to the bowl of a food processor along with another cup of mixed raw greens like spinach, kale, watercress, and/or arugula. Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce, if you'd like. Process until you've got a green paste.

7. Top the shucked oysters with a heaping teaspoon of green mixture and a sprinkling of prepared bread crumbs.

8. Bake the oysters for 10 to 12 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the bread crumbs are crisp. Serve to your valentine with lemon wedges. You’ll love the Oysters Rockefeller at first bite. Good luck on the aphrodisiac kicking in after that.

Photos by Alpha Smoot