I guess it all depends on where you grew up. I look on today's meal as one of those good old-fashioned, down-home country meals, the kind your Aunt Frances used to make-- that is, if your Aunt Frnaces happened to live beside an oyster bed.
Which, fortunately, my Aunt Frances did. And she still serves up her incredible Oysters Rockefeller every couple of weeks, adding this and subtracting that, sometimes mixing in a local seaweed and sometimes settling for spinach, always wondering whether it's anything like the dish served in New Orleans.
Oysters Rockefeller was invented there, at one of the world's most celebrated restaurants, Antoine's.
However, Antoine's has refused to part with the original recipe, offering instead what is called "a close facsimile."
There came a time, not too long ago, when we found ourselves at Antoine's, ordering Oysters Rockefeller. This was it, the big-time, and we felt as awed as any bush-league player finally walking into Yankee Stadium. We took a taste, then another. It was good . . . it was very good . . . it was almost as good as the Oysters Rockefeller that my Aunt Frances makes.
So what follows is her recipe, and I don't mean a close facsimile thereof.
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: salt, pepper, dry mustard, garlic, granulated sugar, baking soda, 2 eggs, flour, vanilla, almond extract.
The Shopping List: Oysters (4 dozen), butter (1 pound), buttermilk, bacon (1/2 pound), 1 onion, 1 bunch parsley, 3 lemons, spinach (1 pound), new potatoes (3 pounds), scallions or chives, large mushrooms (1 pound), bread crumbs, cocoa.
Prepare in Advance: The devil's food cake.
Another family note: The recipe in this series that has caused the most favorable comment was my grandmother's whole wheat bread, made with bacon fat. This is her devil's food cake, also made with bacon fat, equally good.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. You'll begin by browning the bacon for the Oysters Rockefeller, setting the bacon aside and using 1/2 cup of the bacon fat now.
Using an electric beater on medium speed, cream together the bacon fat and 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Then add 2 eggs and mix well.
In another bowl, mix together 3/4 cup of dry cocoa and 1/2 cup of hot water into a smooth paste. Mix the contents of the 2 bowls, along with 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 cup of buttermilk, 1 1/2 cups of flour and a teaspoon of vanilla.
When all the ingredients are smoothly blended, pour into 2 greased and floured cake tins and bake for 1/2 hour.
While the cake is baking, make the frosting. Mix 2/3 cup of hot water, 2 cups of sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of almond extract. Boil for about 2 minutes. When it has cooled to lukewarm, beat it with electric mixer until it's white.Spread it between the layers and over cake when cake has cooled sufficiently.
5:15 p.m.: The new potatoes. While water is coming to a boil, peel the potatoes. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for just 5 minutes. Then put them in a baking dish with 1 stick of melted butter, a handful of scallions (or chives) chopped fine and a large pinch of minced parsley. Potatoes will bake in the oven at the same time as the Oysters Rockefeller.
5:30 p.m.: The Oysters Rockefeller. I'm assuming the oysters are not in the shells. If they are, just smear the rest of the ingredients over them and bake them on the half-shell in a very hot oven (475 degrees for 15 minutes).
Otherwise, try it this way: In a frying pan over medium heat, melt 1/2 stick of butter and add 1/2 onion, chopped fine, and cook it until it turns translucent. Add the rinsed spinach and cook that for 5 or 6 minutes.
The butter onion spinach mixture goes into the blender, along with the juice of 1 lemon, a handful of parsley and 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard. Mix it all together.
Cut the oysters into small pieces, drain away the liquid and put them on the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Cover the oysters with an even layer of the spinach mixture. Top with a layer of bread crumbs and do the surface with the browned bacon pieces.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
6 p.m.: Put both oven dishes-- potatoes and oysters-- into the preheated oven. They should be ready in 1/2 hour.
6:15 p.m.: Place the large mushroom caps in a frying pan with 1/2 stick of butter over medium heat. Add 1 garlic clove, minced, and stir occasionally. Cook about 10 minutes, then add a large pinch of minced parsley and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Lower the temperature.
6:30 p.m.: Test potatoes for doneness. Before serving, add the juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper.