Food You Can Eat: Oysters Rockefeller

Image via Recipe Girl.

Let this be exhibit 7 or 700 in my case: The people vs. the unnamed individual dba Matthew Crawley and why the State should put a 5250 psychiatric hold on him. Should you make this? Yes, actually, if only to know how to do it, if you’re inquisitive. Should you eat it? Imagine your heart is healthily racing along like an 18-wheeler on a lonely stretch of a Texas interstate and then suddenly it just stops. Read the recipe and you decide.

Oysters Rockefeller was supposedly devised at Antoine’s in New Orleans more than a century ago. It was considered so rich that it was named “Rockefeller,” who was thought to be the richest man in America at the time. I’ve ordered this at restaurants, I’ve made it for us and served it to guests.

Recently The Better Half came home and said, “Remember our deal, Mattie. More meatless nights. I just walked by the seafood market and they have oysters on sale. Should I pick some up and you can make those for dinner?” “Give me a few minutes of rummaging around and consulting this handwritten recipe from [friend Y] I have stashed away somewhere. Go to [supermarket X] first and get what I need, and then swing by the seafood market and hurry back with the oysters as quickly as you can.” “So what are you making?” “Oh, I’ve made it before, you’ve had it, a nice, healthy, meat-free supper…” I am trying to disabuse him of the notion that cutting down on meat, as admirable as that is, does not make for a necessarily healthier diet.


A dozen large oysters. This is enough for two men with healthy appetites. Any ravenous beasts roaming about will have to go without.

A lot of rock salt/sea salt

A small baking sheet, something round ideally, something oven-proof

A little butter

A very small onion, diced

1 or 2 garlic cloves, if using (optional), diced

A handful of spinach leaves, shredded, no more than 1/2 cup’s worth for 12 oysters

A splash of lemon juice

A splash of dry white wine, optional, but YOLO

Either: about 4 oz. Romano cheese, grated, or 4 oz. parmesan cheese, grated, somewhat optional

4 oz. Panko bread crumbs.

Tabasco or hot sauce, for garnish, optional. If you add this you’re making a New Orleans version and something you might not see in northern restaurants.

1 lemon quartered, for garnish

Create a layer of salt on the smallest baking sheet you have. Clean and shuck the oysters. This is a pain in the patootie but I find it kind of soothing. Wrap a towel around your non-dominant hand (so if you’re right-handed, wrap the towel around your left hand) and place the clean oyster in that. Ideally you should have an oyster knife, but you don’t really need one. Get out the sharpest, smallest knife you have. With your dominant hand, force it between the two lids of the oyster. Carve around gently and remove the top shell. They fight back a little more than you’d expect, that’s why you wrap the towel around your holding hand, to prevent you from opening a vein while you open the oyster. You’ll see that the remaining shell has the meat and some liquid in it. Place this in the salt on the baking sheet so that it stabilizes and the liquid doesn’t spill. Working quickly but carefully, go through the rest of the oysters. Cover lightly and put this in the fridge.

In a small saucepan melt the butter over medium heat, then addd the onion and the garlic, then add the spinach. Cook this for about 5 minutes overall. Don’t let anything burn and let the spinach kind of sweat/go limp. Now, add the lemon juice and wine if using. Stir this around. Remove from the burner. Add the cheese, if you’re using, and stir this around, creating a kind of creamy mixture. Pour this into a bowl and let it chill for maybe half an hour, so it cools and sets.

Preheat an oven to about 400–425 degrees. Pull out the oysters in their salt bed and the spinach mixture. Put a dollop of your mixture on each of the oysters. Whether you use the cheese or not coat each oyster with the breadcrumbs. If you use the cheese you don’t really need the breadcrumbs, but if you don’t use the cheese you definitely do.

Pop the topped oysters on their salt bed into the oven and cook for about 8 or 10 minutes, maybe even longer depending on the oven. You don’t want to undercook this, so make sure it looks like the topping is nice and browning and bubbling along. You will also see some swelling; that’s the oyster meat cooking.

To serve, plop the whole thing in the middle of a table on a trivet or something, spoon a little tabasco or hot sauce over each oyster if using, and garnish with the quartered lemon. The lemons are just for show but you can squeeze them over the oysters as you go along, which is kind of fun.



    • It’s definitely a niche thing but I like messing with the Deadsplinteriat. Plus, I love all shellfish, I love a good, cheesy seafood dish, and I’ll have you know that in a previous life I met my demise calmly hanging out in the first class smoking lounge while the “Titanic” went down. I am thisclose to writing up a recipe that involves gelatin (not something suspended in Jell-O, something actually very tasty) but I’m going to think about this for a few more days.

  1. Um, oysters are meat. I get that some people seem to disagree on this point, but you tell me if you think there’s another word for animal flesh. Referring to seafood as not meat is the reason far, far too many people seem to think vegetarians eat seafood. (And I’ve also encountered people who don’t seem to understand that fish, oysters, etc are animals… which just boggles my mind.) Sorry, it’s an entertaining recipe and story, this is just a huge pet peeve for me. Seafood tends to be a leaner, healthier meat at its base, but you can make any ingredient unhealthy (and probably delicious) if you fry it and cover it in cheese. 

    • You have a good point! I suppose I meant to say “pescatarian” days. I have many vegetarian friends and about half of them will eat seafood and shellfish, so in my mind the distinction blurs.

      • I am even more irritated by people that call themselves vegetarian and eat fish haha. They have a perfectly acceptable word of their own to use and they need to stay off my lawn. 😜

    • Obviously my experience is biased because hello I had 12 years of Catholic school.

      But I always figured the idea that fish isn’t meat comes from Lent and Catholics (I know other denominations observe Lent, but I assume Catholics are the weird ones with fish not being meat because Catholics have a 2000 year history of making shit up to be convenient and I like to hope more recent flavors of Christianity have a little more logic to their Lent).

      Thanks, Thomas Aquinas! —  “Fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate, and besides are a very great incentive to lust. Such are the flesh of animals that take their rest on the earth, and of those that breathe the air and their products.” (GASP anything besides fish will make the people HORNY!!!)

      So for me growing up, Lent meant Fridays you can’t eat meat. But knock yourself out with the tuna salad or fish sticks or fish fry. Don’t worry, it’s not meat.

      Vegetarians don’t eat meat.

      Sooooo by the transitive property of me/others not really using our brains, vegetarians can eat fish. 


      • Yes, I do blame Catholics, though they’re far from the only people who believe this now. I’m not positive though. “Meat” is just a word, and words are weird, and people have different definitions for them. But goddammit we need a simple word for all animal flesh and I will die on this hill. 

          • According to the Oxford Dictionary the term “pescatarian” only dates from 1990s. But I know this was a lifestyle before then. I wonder what it was called?
            The Catholic example definitely informed my thinking. I wonder if those vegetarian friends of mine who eat fish were Catholic. I definitely know one was, and her husband is Christian. In the beginning I unilaterally imposed “pescatarian” one day a week. But I remember thinking, “I don’t want to pick Friday, because that’s a little pre-Vatican II.” I grew up in an overwhelmingly Catholic town and through it was post-Vatican II the public schools never offered “meat” (fish was OK) on any Friday throughout the year. Why? Because the parents, who were paying for all of his through their property taxes, and this was the way they grew up. I think pre-Vatican II Catholics were to abstain from “meat” every Friday and for the entire 40 days of Lent. 
            I had an old cookbook from WWI (!) that was devoted to what to serve for “meatless” Tuesdays. I kept forgetting that, so then I moved it back to “Meatless Mondays,” figuring the alliteration would help. It didn’t. So I just gave in and picked Friday. That’s been working so far, but the allowance of fish is a loophole you could drive a Mac truck through, so we’re not suffering, far from it. It’s 2021, not 1921, and seafood is usually far more expensive than “meat”.

  2. I will eat all the oysters.  I’ll eat ’em like this a la Rockefeller, or raw with some hot sauce and maybe lemon.  They’re tasty and they put lead in your pencil, if you catch my drift.

      • This is one of those theoretical aphrodisiacs that I’ve never understood.  Instead of making me feel frisky, they make me want to vomit.  It may have something to do with my previous life in the restaurant business when I had to shuck a couple hundred of these suckers every day.  The stench is just overwhelming.

  3. Who new oysters were as contentious as celery soup? I am pescatarian, have been for about 20 years. I have a friend who refers to it as being “small-brain-atarian”. I am hopeful that he is referring to the size of the fish brain, and not my brain. I’d make this and eat this, if I were cooking it for two or more. Looks delicious! Please carry on with your pandemic and surgery induced food fever dreams – we at FYCE salute you!

  4. Oysters used to gross me out when I was a kid.  My parents being Korean love eating foods that still make me queasy.  I remember “Tripe Day” where I basically sat there staring at tripe sitting on my plate.  Or “Octopus Day”, or “Squid Day” or… well, there were a number of days.
    We never had that kind of disastrous oyster day, but I remember my dad taking us to a fancy (for a rural area) restaurant and ordering Oysters Rockerfeller as an appetizer .  My mom and dad ate it, but my sister and I refused. 
    I had this once after I took a shine to raw oysters when I got became a less finicky eater (still don’t like Tripe or Octopus).  I found it to be… too rich so the name makes sense.

  5. So far today, I have had a Special K protein shake, a relatively bland Lean Pocket, and 2 handfuls of jelly beans. I’ve been having to eat very low-fat (not necessarily low calorie, it’s the fat that makes me literally ill) for the last few months. Reading this recipe nearly made me drool. 

      • Thanks. It’s very frustrating! I mean, it’s not that I dislike vegetables or anything, but, man, do I ever miss cheeseburgers! I’ve figured out work arounds for a lot of stuff, but a big, greasy, bacon cheeseburger quite literally haunts my dreams lately.  Also… chocolate. Oh, chocolate… How I miss it…

        • Hmm. How much fat is too much? Are there veggie burgers that meet the criteria? I’m pretty fond of Morningstar’s whole line. There are also really great recipes for black bean burgers out there. It’s obviously not the same but I wonder if it might satisfy the itch in some way. 

          • Anything over about 8-10 grams of fat is pushing my luck. I do step over that line a little bit, now and then, but it’s a gamble as to whether I’ll be completely miserable or just a little miserable! Like, I could eat about 5-6 potato chips, but I’d rather just have a big handful of pretzels and not be still wanting something. I’ve made turkey burgers a few times, which are decent, if not the same. I’m just so damn tired of chicken breast!

Leave a Reply