The Shell Game

I love baked oyster dishes. Kilpatrick. New Orleans-style. Florentine. Gratinées. Rockefeller.

Even though I have gotten pretty good at shucking oysters, oysters in their shells are hard to come by deep in the Sonoran Desert.

Shucked and by the pint, I can find them in quite a few stores, and not just at holiday time. This is great if you want to make oyster stew, or stuffing for your turkey.

But for the baked oysters, I keep thinking, "If only I had some beautiful ceramic oyster shells..."

Sometimes, I actually forget the power of Google. However, one day, I typed in "ceramic oyster shells" into the search function and pressed enter.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear? Not Santa, but a long list of oyster shells.

Google divined that I wanted to see all the options, and showed me glass shells, metal shells, and - yes - beautiful ceramic shells.

Click. Click. Click. Enter credit card. Click. Shipping address. Click. Buy. Wait.

Several days later came a neatly packaged parcel from an Etsy dealer. Mia, at Silver Shell Ceramics, made these incredibly beautiful porcelain shells, that dont wobble on the plate, so now I can have all variety of oysters in the shell any time I want.

The joke was on me - the store only had oysters in the shell today!
I started with Oysters Rockefeller, because I hadn't had them in ages. I served them with Chardonnay, which was not a good match. I then tried Sauvignon Blanc, but that didn't work either. My final test was Champagne; the oysters made the bubbly taste like vinegar.

So I called my friends at The Provence WineZine and asked for a recommendation. Apparently, the Pastis in the oysters makes for a particularly difficult pairing. Their suggestion was a bottle of a Cotes de Provence rosé - a 2013 Château La Tour Sainte Anne. When I picked it up at the wine store, the manager said, "This is an incredible wine - very creamy." (For the results of this food and wine pairing, check out my post on The Provence WineZine, "Upgraded to FirstClass.")

For you history nerds out there, the name Oysters Rockefeller comes from New Orleans. The recipe was invented at Antoine's (it's secret recipe is still a secret), and the dish was named after John D. Rockefeller, then the richest man in the United States. I am not sure JDR ever had them, but the richness of the sauce was compared to his wealth.

Here is my version - I assure you that the amount of topping is perfect (even though it may seem like a lot!). It's rich, just like Mr. Rockefeller!

~ David

Oysters Rockefeller

2 cups loosely packed fresh baby spinach (3 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped chives
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
5 tablespoons panko dry breadcrumbs
4 teaspoons Pastis, or other licorice-flavored liqueur such as Pernod
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 pound rock salt - if using natural oyster shells
16 fresh shucked oysters (shells reserved, of you shucked them yourself)
additional butter, if using porcelain/ceramic/metal shells
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 450°F. Process spinach, chives, butter, breadcrumbs, Pastis, hot sauce, salt, and pepper in a mini food processor. Process until well blended, scraping down the sides occasionally. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover; chill.)

If using natural shells, pour rock salt over large baking sheet to depth of 1/2 inch. Arrange oysters in shells atop rock salt.

If using porcelain/ceramic/metal shells, butter the insides lightly. Place one shucked oyster in each mold and place them on a baking sheet.

Top each oyster with 1 tablespoon spinach mixture. Sprinkle with a little cheese. Bake until spinach mixture browns on top, about 10-12 minutes.

Serves 4.

You can also use small ramekins to make these, and even larger ramekins of you put several oysters in each.

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