Oysters Rockefeller was created in 1899 at the New Orleans restaurant Antoine’s by Jules Alciatore, son of founder Antoine Alciatore. Jules developed the dish due to a shortage of escargot, substituting the locally available oysters. The recipe remains unchanged, with an estimated three and a half million orders having been served.
The dish was named Oysters Rockefeller after John D. Rockefeller, the then wealthiest American, for its extreme richness. It consists of oysters on the half-shell topped with a green sauce and bread crumbs, then baked or broiled. Though the original sauce recipe is a secret, it includes a purée of a number of green vegetables that may include spinach. Similar versions of the dish have proliferated in New Orleans, with none noted as an accurate duplicate.
Chef Alton Brown states in the “Shell Game” episode of his Food Network series Good Eats that Alciatore took his recipe to the grave and any version since is merely an assumption. While many achieve the sauce’s trademark green color simply using spinach, Antoine’s chefs have repeatedly denied the dish contains it. A 1986 laboratory analysis by William Poundstone in Bigger Secrets indicated its primary ingredients were parsley, pureed and strained celery, scallions or chives (indistinguishable in a food lab), olive oil, and capers.
Pernod Fils absinthe, a popular Victorian era inclusion that fell out production in 1915, is a possible original ingredient. Malcolm Hébert, native Louisianan, cookbook author and wine and food editor, decries spinach, and adds the anise-flavored liqueur Herbsaint. It is not possible that Herbsaint was in the original recipe, as Herbsaint debuted in 1934, nor Pernod Fils anise liqueur, which did not appear until after the First World War.