3 doz shelled raw oysters in their liquor
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 stick butter
4 tablespoon flour
2 bunches parsley, all stems removed, finely minced
2 bunches green onions, finely minced
8 ribs celery, all strings removed, finely minced
4 tablespoon tomato paste
1-1.2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup bread crumbs
6 small ovenproof baking dishes
Prepare the oysters:
Poach the oysters in their own liquor with the 1/2 teaspoon salt and the juice from 1 lemon for 1 minute or just until their edges barely begin to curl. Do not boil. Strain the oysters, reserving 1 cup of their liquid, and set aside.
Make the Rockefeller Sauce:
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes without coloring. Blend in the 1 cup reserved oyster poaching liquid. Blend in the minced parsley, green onion and celery. Add the tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and cayenne. Simmer very, very slowly for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Add the bread crumbs and adjust seasonings according to taste.
Assemble the dish:
Arrange the oysters in individual oven proof dishes, 6 oysters per serving, and spoon over the Rockefeller Sauce. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 12 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and beginning to brown. Serves 6.
Most recipes call for spinach, though it is not employed in the original recipe. Some cooks like the sauce to be very green and use green food coloring, while others add Worcestershire and hot pepper sauce or Herbsaint or Pernod. The final touches will always depend on your own palate.
I have seen this sauce successfully employed as a sauce served over fried trout, as a sauce for pasta, and even as a base for a souffle. I have never had Oysters Rockefeller done as well as it is done in the location of its origin, Antoine's.
I have simplified assembly and baking of the recipe by calling for the use of ovenproof dishes. Normally in restaurants the oysters would be baked on the half-shell, in pie pans filled with rock salt.
It is the utmost importance if you want the sauce to turn out correctly that must insure that you scrape all the strings from the celery stalks. If you don't, you will never get the proper texture. There will always be stringy bits in the sauce no matter how finely you chop. Remove all stems from the parsley or you will get a bitterness that you will not be able to eliminate. When I say to simmer very, very slowly, I mean it. Some of the best chefs in New Orleans scorch this sauce regularly because it takes a long time on a low fire with regular stirring and a good cover on the pot. Don't let it blop and bubble. Don't try to rush it. Absolutely all of the raw green taste of the vegetables needs to be cooked out in order for the sauce to acquire the rich and marvelous taste for which it is so justly famous. This is one of the reasons that this sauce is so difficult to prepare properly.