Saturday, July 25, 2020

Oysters Rockefeller

A few years back, I was in New Orleans for work. After a long day, I joined some friends and colleagues for dinner. They had chosen the restaurant. It was, of course, the legendary Antoine's, deep in the heart of the French Quarter. Antoine's just happens to be the birthplace of the dish, Oysters Rockefeller.  

Antoine Alciatore opened Antoine's in 1840.  By 1850, Antoine had invented a dish called Escargot (Snails) Bourgigon. In 1899, Anotine passed the restaurant to his son, Jules.  As it turns out, that same year, there was a shortag eof escargot.  Jules decided to turn to the local  oysters from the nearby Gulf of Mexico.  He topped those oysters with a green mixture and bread crumbs.  It is difficult to say exactly what was in that mixture because the recipe is a closely guarded secret. Antoine's has never published or revealed anything about the recipe, except for a few hints of what is not in it.  For example, the green color of the mixture does not come from the use of spinach. That claim was confirmed when someone took some of the mixture to a lab for testing.  Sure enough, there was no spinach. Instead, there was parsley, celery, scallions or chives, capers and olive oil.  There was also most likely some alcohol, perhaps pernod. The mixture was so rich, that Jules called it Oyster Rockefeller, a nod to John Rockefeller, who was the richest person in America at the time.  Once it is ready, the dish is put under the broiler or baked until it begins to brown slightly and the oysters begin to curl around their edges. 

Of course, we ordered Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine's that night and, sure enough, it lived up to the hype.  The oysters were perfectedly cooked, and, the mixture was delicious.  I was determined to make it on my own.  It may take a few years, but it would happen.

Fast forward to 2020. It's been a helluva year. But, it was the year that I finally made Oysters Rockefeller.  I had ordered some very special oysters from the Chesapeake Bay, some Chincoteague Salts and Misty Points from Cherrystone Aqua Farms. I had decided to use an equal amount of each of the two types of oysters to make Oysters Rockefeller.  

As for the recipe, I found one online that followed what could be the original recipe, with its use of parsley, scallions, and celery.  The one thing it did not call for was the pernod, which was okay because I did not have any.  (The next time I make this dish I am going to buy some and try it in the recipe, to get closer to the authentic dish.)  From what I can remember of the original dish, my first attempt was a good effort, but not quite there.  It needs a little refinement, but, that comes with future efforts to make the dish.  Hopefully, it won't take me three years to make Oysters Rockefeller again.

Recipe adapted from Saveur
Serves 4

1 dozen oysters, shucked but kept in cup (bottom part)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 scallions, minced
2 ribs celery, minced
2 sprigs tarragon, stemmed and minced
1 bunch of parsley, stemmed and minced, plus sprigs to garnish
Kosher salt
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

1. Prepare the oysters. Shuck oysters over a bowl to catch their liquor (you should have about 1/2 cup), discarding the flat top shells.  Loosen oysters from bottom shells with a knife.

2. Prepare the topping. Melt butter in a 2 quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add flour, cook until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Add oyster liquo, cook until thickened to a paste, about 2 minutes.  Stir in cayenne, scallions, celery, tarragon, parsley and salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to medium low; cook until soft, about 1 hour.  Transfer to a food processor, add bread crumbs and process into a smooth paste, about 2 minutes.  

3. Complete the dish. Heat broiler to high.  Place paste in a pasty bag fitted with a 1/2 inch fluted tip.  Pipe paste completely over oysters.  (If you don't have a pastry bag, use a spoon.)  Broil until paste begins to brown and oysters are just cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.  Garnish each dish with parsley sprigs, if desired. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Blistered Shishito Peppers and White Onions

The history of the Shishito pepper goes back about five centuries.  In some respects, it is a tale that begins as the story of many peppers. That beginning is aboard a Portuguese caravel during the 16th century.

The 16th century represented perhaps the pinnacle of Portuguese "exploration." I used the word in quotes because the areas they explored -- such as the coasts of Africa, the subcontinent, and eastern Asia -- already existed with their own long histories and cultures. (I always try to be mindful of how history is told from a western perspective.) By the beginning of the 16th century, the Portuguese had "discovered" what is known today as Brazil.  By the mid 16th century, Portuguese explorers and traders had not only navigated around the Cape of Good Hope in Southern Africa, but they had made their way to what is modern day India, China and even Japan.  At least two Portuguese traders -- Antonio Mota and Francisco Zeimoto --  were the first to make their way to island of Tanagashima in 1543.  Those traders were the first Europeans to make contact with the Japanese and they did so by accident.  Their vessel had been blown off course by a typhoon and wrecked on the island. In the years that followed, the Portuguese established more formal contacts, especially focused on trade.  

As these Portguese vessels made their way around the world, they brought one very little tasty vegetable as an item for trade ... the pepper. The Portguese brought different peppers with them, including the malagueta pepper from Brazil and the padron pepper from Spain. The Portuguese brought the former pepper to Africa, where it has become the piri-piri (or peri-peri) pepper.  As for the latter pepper, the Portugutese most likely brought it to Japan, where it literally and figuratively took root. The relatively mild pepper came to be known as the Shishito pepper. The name "shishito" comes from the Japanese for lion (shishi) and pepper (togarashi).  Together, the word shishito is the Japanese Lion Head pepper.  

Fast forward to today, the shishito pepper seems to be making its way around the world much like an explorer. It seems to have made its way across the Pacific Ocean to restaurants across the United States. Chefs and cooks across this country have taken to the little pepper, blistering them and serving them as appetizers and tapas to hungry guests.

This recipe follows that trend, but with a slight nod back to the pepper's origin.  The blishito peppers are "blistered," that is sauteed until the skins begin to brown, with a sauce made from soy sauce, lemon juice, water and a little sugar.  The recipe was good and easy to make.  However, the next time I think I will try a different way to prepare these peppers.

Recipe adapted from CSA Cookbook, page 48
Serves 4

1 tablespoon of canola oil
2 cups of shishito peppers
1 white onion cut lengthwise into eighths
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar

1. Saute the peppers.  Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Swirl in the oil, then spread the peppers and onions across the pan with as little overlap as possible, pressing down on them lightly with a spatula.  Cook undisturbed until the bottoms are lightly blistered and browned, about 5 minutes.  Shake up the pan and continue cooking until the pepper are tender and the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2.  Make the sauce.  Combine the soy sauce, water, lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved.  

3.  Finish the dish.  Transfer the peppers and onions to a serving dish and pour the sauce over them. Stir to coat evenly and serve warm.