A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 02, 2006
Oysters Rockefeller

New York City has plenty of connections to the Rockefellers (Rockefeller Center, Rockefeller University), but “oysters Rockefeller” comes from New Orleans. The dish was allegedly created in 1899 at Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans. However, the earliest citation that I could find in print was from 1912, involving Restaurant de la Louisiane.

Oysters Rockefeller is an oyster dish created at the New Orleans institution Antoine’s. Jules Alciatore adapted a similar recipe to use oysters instead of snails during a shortage of French snails and diners’ declining taste for them. Antoine’s founder Antoine Alciatore created the original snail recipe. Though many New Orleans restaurants serve dishes purporting to be Oysters Rockefeller, the owners of Antoine’s claim that no other restaurant has been able to successfully duplicate the recipe.
However, Antoine’s chefs have repeatedly denied that the authentic recipe contains spinach. Since 1899, Antoine’s and other fine French/Creole restaurants have been making this rich oyster dish, a combination of oysters, capers, parsley, and parmesan cheese, topped with a rich white sauce of butter, flour, milk, etc.

As the dish is so rich, it was named for the richest American of the time, John D. Rockefeller. 

John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) was an American industrialist who played a prominent role in the early oil industry with the founding of Standard Oil (ExxonMobil is the largest of its descendants). Over a forty-year period, Rockefeller built Standard Oil into the largest company in the world, and was for a time the richest man in the world.

19 March 1912, Chicago Daily Tribune, “The Gulf Oyster” by Jane Eddington, pg. 8:
Once in New Orleans we hasten for our first luncheon to Restaurant de la Louisiane—the Louisiane for short—and there we find that we can have oysters Rockefeller, oysters Louisiane, oysters brochette, oysters marieniere, oysters on the half shell, fried oysters ,and, of course, oyster cocktail.
Oysters Rockefeller—We forgot to ask Louis why the name, but when you see what condensed richness is put into the dressing of half a dozen roasted oysters, served on the half shell, you can answer why for yourself. To begin with the oysters, on the shell, resting on a bed of rock salt, are roasted for five minutes under the fire in a fireplace—in the oven it would take seven or eight minutes to roastthem. The sauce: This is made of a number of greens ground in a sausage grinder—this is what Louis calls the meat grinder—pounded with a little butter, to which is added one teaspoon of essence of anchovy, a few drops of tabasco sauce and the same of Worcestershire sauce. The greens are tops of shallots—more of them that anything else—a bit of cress, celery, parsley, spinach, chives amd chervil. This latter is rare and must be grown in hotbeds. It is so grown in gardens both quite far north as well as south. If this latter is not obtainable a few drops of absinthe is added to give the flavor of anist. One tablespoon of this sauce is dipped over each roasted oyster—oyster Rockefeller as served at the Louisiane.

3 March 1957, New York Times, “Cooking in Creole—New Orleans Style” by Jane Nickerson, pg. 217:
To this must be added such typical cocktails as absinthe suisesse and Ramos gin fizz, the flaming coffee called cafe brulot and the various baked oysters that are variations on the oysters Rockefeller of Antoine’s restaurant.

Founded in 1840, Antoine’s is administered by Roy Alciatore, grandson of the original owner. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Wednesday, August 02, 2006 • Permalink