Whenever I’m asked what famous writer I would invite to a dinner party, the easy answer is Mark Twain. I always imagined someone who could toss out one-liners like “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” could be counted on to liven things up when conversation wound down. The thing is, there’s no evidence Twain said that famous line. What he actually wrote about his adopted city was far more generic—suggesting he may have been as prone to small talk as the rest of us after all.
“I fell in love with the most cordial and sociable city in the Union,” Twain remarked blandly after heading west and settling in San Francisco in 1864. A year later, he became nationally famous—one of the many fortune-seekers to find their future in California.
I thought of Twain last week, as I prepared to make the same cross-country move, packing up my New York life to return to the coast where I grew up. Over the last five years, Manhattan became my own adopted city, and with barely a week to say my goodbyes, I sought out the things it does best: tingling dan dan noodles at Lan Sheng, bagels loaded with whitefish at Russ and Daughters, the perfect pizza slice at Di Fara.
Which coast has the best oysters, though, is still up for debate, 100 years after Twain posed the question. A seafood connoisseur, he was a regular at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel, taking his typical breakfast of salmon and fried oysters. He’d return for dinner at 7:30 p.m., when, he wrote, “if you refuse to move upon the supper works and destroy oysters done up in all kinds of seductive styles until 12 o’clock, the landlord will certainly be offended.” Twain’s relationship with the landlord, it should be noted, was excellent.
But Twain didn’t discriminate against Eastern oysters; he was an equal-opportunity eater. After spending two years in Europe, Twain drafted a menu of all the U.S. dishes he missed—over 75 of them. A whole section was devoted to shellfish, in preparations from around the country: “Fried oysters; stewed oysters. … Blue points, on the half shell. Cherry-stone clams. San Francisco mussels, steamed. Oyster soup. Clam Soup. Philadelphia Terapin soup. Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style.”
Twain returned to his home country through the food he ate there, and after a week away, I’m finding myself doing the same: jotting down smoked fish recipes and eyeing pizza stones, wondering if cooking up a taste of the past will be cheaper and easier than buying a plane ticket. Over the last five years, I fell in love with a most cordial and sociable city. Now I’m inviting Mark Twain to dinner, hoping he’ll help me do it again.
Oysters Rockefeller is named for one of the most elite New Yorkers of all time, but it was created by another ex-resident of the Big Apple. Like Twain, Antoine Alciatore made his name after he left the East Coast, frustrated by years of trying and failing to start a restaurant of his own. He hit the jackpot in New Orleans, founding Antoine’s in 1840. It’s now the oldest operating family restaurant in the country.
Twain hoped for “oysters roasted in the shell” upon his return to the States, and he probably could have scarfed down a dozen of these after his travels. Although I shared mine, I can attest that a platter of them is an ideal way to unwind after a long trip—or just a long day.
(Adapted from Tyler Florence)
3 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 shallots, minced
2 cups baby spinach
1/4 cup Pernod
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 dozen oysters, on the half shell
Lemon wedges, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs with half the garlic butter. Add olive oil, parmesan and parsley, toss to mix, then set aside.
2. To the remaining garlic butter in the skillet, add shallots and spinach. Cook for 3 minutes over low heat until the spinach wilts. Add Pernod and season with salt and pepper, then allow the mixture to cook down for a few minutes.
3. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of the spinach mixture on each oyster followed by a spoonful of the bread crumbs. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden. Serve with lemon wedges.
42 thoughts on “Mark Twain: Oysters Rockefeller”
There is something wonderful about Oysters in general. You doing this took them to a higher power.
You tell us a wonderful story here, drawing the food line between Mr. Twain and yourself – you both seem to have excellent taste!
Love your work. I’ll be cooking these real soon.
Reblogged this on BOOMERBEAT – FRISCO DAYS.
I totally dig Twain. He and Huck and the others. Great writer. Wish more young people would dig him.
I loved reading this post! You are a WONDERFUL writer and all of the photos were beautiful. Pardon me while I take notes… 🙂
I was just in New Orleans for Jazz Fest and went to Antoine’s! They sold us on trying the original Oysters Rockefeller. It was definitely… an experience. Your oysters look delicious!
wow! That sounds so good! Although I have never been a fan of raw oysters – yours sound absolutely delectable. I just might try these!
Love the post about the humble oyster. Congrats on Freshly Pressed! Trèsors De Luxe http://www.tresorsdeluxe.wordpress.com
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This was a beautiful and unique way to introduce a recipe.
Reblogged this on Kyoto Trend Net and commented:
I wish to try!
Ohhhh my gosh! Panko on oysters!! Brilliant. I must try this! I looove panko and ouster!!
Excellent post. i would be try in some time..
That looks very appealing, I will definitely try this recipe. I found your blog through Freshly Pressed (congratulations) and love the whole concept.
Have you read a book by the late great cookery writer Jane Grigson (UK) called ‘Food with the Famous’ it was published way back in 1981 but 2nd hand copies are not hard to come by (try Omnivore Books in SF). She covers the food eaten/mentioned by a whole range of famous people and gives recipes too;Jane Austen, Emile Zola, Claude Monet, Thomas Jefferson; and thats just the ones I can remember.
Really enjoyed reading this. Thank you.
Reblogged this on Casey's Blogorama Now with more Taxi-bells! and commented:
One of my very favorite oyster dishes.:-)
Assalamualaikum Esa,You can always go to other places like -63 building/Aquarium/Hangang Park. -Bukchon Hanok village-National Museum-Palaces-shopping at Namdaemun/Myeongdong/Dongdaemun
I can feel the oysters melt in my mouth just by looking at your photos!
I’ve never tasted an oyster – how would you describe them tasting in the recipe above. They looks tasty
Fascinating post – I’ve always wanted to try oysters!
I love the linking of food and writing. Books often use food. Always nice to do it the other way round and end up with something good to eat. Excellent post.
Mmmmmm I love Oysters Rockefeller delicious
Reblogged this on Internet Security and commented:
Reblogged this on oovekbk0710.
Food and a story!! Unbeatable combination! I love it.
Great post! Cheers!
Great work.. Facts indeed..
I have got to try these, I have to drive 45 minutes for good, fresh oysters but this looks like it would be worth it!
I really enjoyed this post – I love Mark Twain, New York and SFO – Will make the Oysters for my other half as he adores them…
This looks amazing! 🙂
a literary delight. yummy post.
These are just gorgeous and the recipe is wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post!
Hello! You are nominated for the inspiring blogger award 😉 check my post if you wanna know the rules
Heey, you are nominated for the inspiring blogger award 😉
Thank you. Great piece and photos!
Reblogged this on Apps Lotus's Blog.
Oysters are one of the ocean’s great gifts – fresh or cooked. They stand up well on their own, but also come alive with the right garnishing and pairings. I’ll have to try this in my own kitchen.
I love posts like this! Please do more, with trader joes too please!
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be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward
to new updates.