Delaware and oysters have a longstanding connection. Our Delaware Bay once was prolific in producing them, yielding a harvest of 1 -2 million bushels during the 1930’s. But also this week is Delaware Day (Dec 7) when we honoring the day in 1787 when lawyer and statesman Caesar Rodney rode through the night from Delaware to Philadelphia to sign the new US Constitution. Since he was the first to sign, Delaware became “The First State”, an honor in which we take great pride.
I asked Chef Robbie Jester of Beat Bobby Flay fame and executive chef at a local restaurant what dish to prepare in honor of Delaware Day. He suggested oysters because of their deep association with special occasions and because of their Delaware connection.
The Delaware Bay produces oysters with two distinct flavors, one from the inner bay and the other from the Cape Shore, both prized for their plump firm meat. The Cape Shore oysters are briny, with a sweet, nutty astringency while the inner bay oysters have a milder flavor. Today there are only five producers left from many in the past and only three oyster schooners remain on the bay.
While many people enjoy slurping raw oysters on the half shell, baked Oysters Rockefeller seemed more suited for the occasion. The original formula was never actually divulged by its creator, Jules Alciatore, chef and owner of Antoine’s in New Orleans, when he created it at the turn of the twentieth century. But none the less, the dish is enjoyed by many. All the variations are known for a smooth, rich, green sauce and an alluring golden brown bread crumb topping.
While this dish truly doesn’t need a recipe I’m offering one below. In any case the preparation is really simple.
First, start with fresh caught oysters and either shuck them or ask your fish monger to do it. Chef Robbie suggested that shucking them with friends can make for a great party. In any case, reserve the shells. The quantity depends on the number who are joining the party. Think in terms of 6 per person.
The other essential ingredients include butter, greens, garlic, herbs, a liquor and bread crumbs or panko. Personally being Italian, I chose an anise flavored liquor to add complexity to the dish.
While December 7th has other sad connotations, on that day we will be honoring an important occasion for the First State.
This preparation features anise flavor due to the tarragon, fennel and anisette but the ingredients can be varied. These quantities serve six.
2 dozen oysters, scrubbed and shucked, on the half shell. Reserve liquid
1 cup firmly packed fresh spinach, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped tarragon (parsley is a good alternative)
1/3 cup fennel, chopped
1 stick butter, reserving 1 third for topping
1 clove garlic, minced,
A few tbls of shallots, leaks or onions, chopped
3 tablespoons anisette
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
1/3 cup fine bread crumbs
salt and pepper for seasoning
coarse salt for topping
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Toss together spinach, herbs, oyster liquid and 1/3 of the bread crumbs.
Melt butter in a skillet, reserving ½ to add moisture to the bread crumbs. Add the garlic and spinach mixture and cook briefly just until greens are wilted. Add liquor at the end. Process briefly until you have gotten a smooth paste. Remove from processor.
Add anisette, salt and pepper to taste. Chill until cool.
Line a 1-inch deep baking pan with coarse salt and arrange the oysters on top or choose individual baking dishes enough to hold 6 oysters per person.
Spoon spinach mixture onto oysters.
Toss remaining bread crumbs with parmesan. Toast briefly with remaining melted butter, and a few tablespoons of herbs. Sprinkle on top of each oyster.
Dot with butter and ground pepper.
Bake until browned, about 10 minutes. Serve hot from the oven with a vinaigrette or mignonette sauce as an accompaniment.