It was up to me, as the lowest-ranking member of the restaurant kitchen, to shuck the oysters for this dish (always to order, never ahead of time), whisk up the hollandaise, and get the plates of hot oysters into the hands of the snarling waiters as quickly as possible. Assuming your own work environment is a little less hectic, you can shuck the oysters and take them out of the shells earlier the same day, and blanch the spinach. However, you should make the hollandaise, which is very perishable, within an hour of serving the dish and cream the spinach and poach the oysters at the last minute. If you’re serving these oysters as part of an elaborate dinner with lots of courses, give 3 per person (meaning this recipe will make enough for 8), but if you’re following the oysters with a relatively light main course, give 6 per person.
Wash the spinach, remove and discard the stems, and blanch the leaves for 30 seconds to 1 minute— until they “melt”—in
Shuck the oysters into a bowl and discard the top shells. Scrub the bottom shells under running water and arrange them on a sheet pan covered with a sheet of crumpled aluminum foil, which will keep them flat on the sheet pan. Place the sheet pan in a 200°F[95°C] (or lowest setting possible) oven about 20 minutes before you’re ready to serve the oysters, to dry out and heat the shells. Pick the oysters out of the bowl and arrange them on a clean kitchen towel. Pat them with a second towel and place them in a
About 15 minutes before you’re ready to serve, prepare the hollandaise. Combine the curry powder with the butter in a small saucepan and heat, while stirring, over low heat until you can smell the fragrance of the curry, about 1 minute. (This is to wake up the flavor of the spices contained in the curry.) Stir the curry mixture, a bit at a time, to taste, into the hollandaise.
Boil the cream in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan until it reduces by about half and gets very thick. Stir in the spinach. Continue stirring over medium heat until the spinach is hot, about 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Take the oyster shells out of the oven (unless you have a second oven or a separate broiler) and turn on the broiler.
Put the saucepan containing the oysters over medium heat until the oysters just begin to curl around the edges, and take the pan off the heat. Put a spoonful of hot spinach on each oyster shell. Lift the oysters out of the saucepan with a spoon and arrange them in the shells over the spinach.
Just about any hot in-the-shell oyster you encounter in a restaurant will be put together much like this one. Only the garniture in the shell and the sauce will differ. Most oyster sauces are based on the reduced oyster poaching liquid, which is often combined with white wine and sometimes with shallots before cream or butter is whisked in, as in making a beurre blanc. One of the most common hot oyster dishes is oysters with champagne sauce, made by reducing Champagne with shallots and the oyster cooking liquid. Frankly, I’d rather drink the Champagne and use a wine with plenty of acidity, such as a muscadet. When the sauce is ready, it can be spooned over the oysters as is, or you can add other ingredients such as finely chopped herbs (chervil, parsley, chives, or tarragon), spices (curry mixtures, saffron), compound butters (especially Crustacean Butter), chopped truffles, reduced mushroom cooking liquid, reduced and strained tomato purée (coulis), or roe (lobster, sea urchin, sea scallop) to come up with your own versions.
Oysters Rockefeller is an American invention but is based on the same principle as its French cousins except that garniture—a combination of cooked spinach, bread crumbs, bacon, scallions, and a little hot sauce—goes on top of the oysters before they are broiled.
The garniture for underneath the oyster can be left out altogether, but it helps attenuate the richness of the sauce and the oyster itself and should be designed with this in mind. If, for example, you’re using a tangy mock champagne sauce (made with white wine), you should avoid an acidic garniture such as tomates concassées or sorrel. On the other hand, if the sauce is less acidic and is finished with a rich ingredient such as sea urchin roe, you may want a tangy garniture (again, such as tomates concassées or lightly creamed sorrel) to contrast with the sauce and lighten the effect of the whole assembly. You can also use sauces from other dishes, such as the quick sauce américaine.
© 2002 James Peterson. All rights reserved.