Monday, February 23, 2009
For those who follow along, here's the other photo I snuck in during our "no photo" Valentine's dinner - and my favorite dish of the evening. It was an easy top choice. I order Oysters Rockefeller every time I see them on a restaurant menu, and we’ve made a whole bunch of versions at home too.
This one is my hands-down favorite - so far - since I'm more than willing to continue testing these succulent babies both at home and in restaurants for the rest of my life.
But from now on, every recipe will have to compete with this one. With shallots, fennel root and fresh wilted baby spinach, these oysters rock with fresh flavor.
But that’s not all. There is secret ingredient that makes the brine so tasty, you’ll be tempted to lick the shell. If you were sitting in my dining room eating these with me, I’d make you guess what it is, but some things are lost when sharing food on a blog rather than in person.
Hint: It was the drink of choice of artists and writers in the mid to late 19th century. Oscar Wilde drank it. So did Edgar Allen Poe and Ernest Hemingway. Picasso and Van Gogh painted it. Its nickname is la Fee Verte or the Green Fairy. Did you guess?
The secret ingredient is Absinthe. I don’t know what the laws are where you live, but Absinthe is now legal in Massachusetts. It was outlawed in the U.S. in 1912 because of its reputed hallucinogenic effects, but now that it's back, it's experiencing a revival.
We didn’t actually buy a bottle ourselves. It was a gift from a friend who bought it for us years ago in Europe, long before it was legal here. The stories about Absinthe scared me enough that it rested in our wine rack, looking oh so cool, for years before we actually tried it. Yes, years!
We finally decided to try it on our anniversary a year and a half ago – at a cottage we rented in Maine, because if we were going to hallucinate we sure didn’t want to do it in front of the kids. Just kidding – kind of. I had actually done enough research to reassure me that one drink of Absinthe wasn’t going to make me lose my mind.
It didn’t. But it did have a different effect than a glass of wine – more like a buzz with a heighted awareness. We drank it the traditional way, by pouring cold water over a sugar cube placed on a spoon. This causes the Absinthe to louch, or turn a milky opalescent white. It’s pretty cool and the flavor is a combination of anise and other herbs, including the wormwood that is blamed for the hallucinations.
But I digress…back to the oysters…
The other special ingredient in these Oysters Rockefeller is St. Andre cheese. This French soft ripened cheese is buttery like Brie, but with a more intense flavor. Its triple crème makeup with a 75 percent butterfat is certainly not for dieters, but it is so well worth trying for those occasions that just demand decadence.
Don’t you wish all of life could be that way?
Green Fairy Oysters Rockefeller
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 cloves minced garlic
4 tablespoons finely chopped fennel root
2 ounces Absinthe (or Pernod)
Sprinkle of salt and pepper
2 cups baby spinach
Small wedge of St. Andre cheese
Open oysters (* see tip below), discard top shell and arrange on cookie sheet. Heat butter and olive oil in sauté pan. Add shallots, garlic and fennel root and sauté over medium low heat until tender, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add Absinthe, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Place spinach in pan and cook just until wilted, 1 – 2 minutes.
Divide spinach mixture evenly (about a kitchen teaspoon each) among the 12 oysters. Top each with 1 teaspoon St. Andre cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
* John Lowell, owner of the East Dennis Oyster Farm, offers the following instructions on how to open an oyster. First, always wear a pair of sturdy gloves and use a good quality oyster knife. Lowell says true Cape Codders go in from the side, but its easier to in at the hinge and twist the knife to pop it open. Cut the adductor muscle that holds the shell closed. Discard the top shell and separate the adductor from the bottom shell. For the best presentation, take your knife and flip over the oyster meat.
For a printable recipe click here