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Recipes and Stories

22 September 2017: Savoring Old New Orleans

Oysters Rockefeller at Galatoire's

Last weekend, it was my privilege to celebrate the publication of my latest book, Ham: A SAVOR THE SOUTH® Cookbook, at the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association’s annual conference and trade show in New Orleans. The big event was sharing a panel moderated by Ashley Warlick with James Beard Award-winning author and dear friend Cynthia Graubart and new friends Melinda Risch Winans and Cynthia Lejeune Nobles (authors of The Fonville Winans Cookbook: Recipes and Photographs from a Louisiana Artist).

But the joy in the trip was a chance to savor some of old New Orleans and it’s legendary food in the company of lovely friends. The only time I’d ever been in the city before was for a quick one day business trip to present historical research on iced tea, when the extent of my gastronomical exploring was confined to an early business dinner at Emeril’s and beignets at Café du Monde.

This trip was barely a day longer than that, but it was packed. It began shortly after I landed with a lovely jazz brunch in the company of Cynthia Graubart at The Court of Two Sisters, followed that evening by a cozy steak dinner with a small group that included my lovely friends Justine and Jim Veatch in the handsomely paneled bar at Dickie Brennan’s Steak House.

The next day brought a civilized, leisurely lunch with UNC Press sales manager Susan Garrett in the serenely-elegant green and white dining room at Galatoire’s Restaurant, and French 75 cocktails (what else?) with fellow cookbook author and lovely friend Nancie McDermott amid the suave sophistication of Arnaud’s French Seventy-Five Bar, followed by dinner in the restaurant’s venerable dining room.

It’s rare to get a break from cooking that doesn’t at some point make me think it would’ve been better to have stayed home and cooked it myself, but this trip was one. Every moment and mouthful was pure joy. But while the food was all wonderfully delicious and the settings soothed and comforted with their Old-World elegance, the best thing about it all was getting to share that time with cherished old friends that I so rarely get to see anymore.

After all, when we gather at the table, the best spice in the world is good company: even dry toast can seem like a rare treat when it’s shared with people we love.

Oysters Rockefeller Galatoire’s

Though created by Chef Jules Alciatore at the legendary Antoine’s Restaurant on Louis Street (in New Orleans’ venerable French Quarter), Oysters Rockefeller has become an iconic dish that many of the city’s old restaurants offer. Each kitchen has devised its own version, since Chef Alciatore’s original recipe remains a closely guarded secret.

This is the version that Susan and I had at the venerable Galatoire’s on Bourbon Street, taken from the Galatoire’s Cookbook by Melvin Rodrigue with Jyl Benson, published in 2005 (Clarkson-Potter/© 2005 by Galatoire’s Restaurant) to commemorate the restaurant’s centennial.

The original recipe served a dozen people. I’ve cut it down to six servings. Maybe some of you have dinner parties for twelve, but this old man can barely manage six to eight these days.

Serves 6

3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) chopped fennel (bulb only)
2 tablespoons chopped leeks (green and white parts)
2 tablespoons finely chopped curly parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (green and white parts)
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
¾ cup cooked and drained chopped frozen spinach
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon ground anise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Herbsaint liqueur or Pernod
½ cup (1 4-ounce stick) melted salted butter
¼ cup seasoned dried breadcrumbs
6 cups rock salt
3 dozen oysters on the half shell
6 lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 350° F. To make the sauce, combine the fennel, leeks, parsley, scallions, celery, ketchup, spinach, salt, pepper, cayenne, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, and liqueur in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until pureed. Scrape the puree into a mixing bowl and stir in the butter and crumbs until well blended.

Cover the bottoms of 12 8-inch-round pans with a cup each of rock salt. Arrange 6 oysters in their shells on the rock salt.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a round tip with the puree and pipe the puree evenly over each oyster. Alternatively, you may simply spoon the puree over each oyster. Bake the oysters 5 minutes or until the sauce is set, then turn on the broiler and broil until they’re bubbly, about 3-4 minutes longer. If necessary, bake the oyster in batches but keep each batch warm.

To serve them as they’re presented at Galatoire’s, fold 12 white dinner napkins so that they form neat squares large enough to cover a dinner plate. Line 12 dinner plates with the napkins. Set the pans of oyster in the center of the napkins, but a lemon wedge at the center of each serving, and serve at once.

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