One of the great American dishes, oysters Rockefeller, was created at Antoine’s, the legendary restaurant in New Orleans, and was so named because it was said to be “as rich as Rockefeller.” I wanted to work up a lighter, more modern homage, but as I tested recipes, I came to accept that the richness of the classic preparation is indeed something to be cherished. Is it rich? Yes. Is it too rich? Possibly, but you can tweak that. Is it an absolute treat, easy to prepare at home, sophisticated, and in itself a special occasion? A billion times, yes.
Preheat the broiler to 400°F (or medium high). Line an ovenproof tray with rock salt or folded aluminum foil.
Shuck the oysters and discard the top shell. Drain the liquor, reserving 1 cup of it, and arrange the shucked oysters in their shells on the lined tray. Bring a pot of gently salted water to a boil. Briefly plunge the watercress, scallions, and parsley in the water to wilt them. Drain well and, using your hands, lightly squeeze as much moisture from them as possible. Finely mince the greens and set them aside. Heat 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Stir the paprika and mace into the butter, toasting the spices until they release their aromas, about 2 minutes. Add the minced greens and a judicious pinch of salt and continue to cook until the greens have warmed through, about 3 minutes. Add the cream, Pernod, Worcestershire sauce, and the reserved oyster liquor, stirring to combine over high heat. Cook until the liquid has begun to thicken, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the remaining 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter into small pieces. Remove the sauce from the heat, let cool a minute or two, then whisk in the remaining butter, one piece at a time, until you have a thick, emulsified mixture. Let cool to room temperature. Divide the sauce evenly among the oysters, then sprinkle the bread crumbs over each oyster. (I like just a few crumbs scattered over each, but I leave this up to you.) Place the tray on the middle rack of the oven and broil until the sauce and liquor in the oysters begin to bubble, 5 to 7 minutes. Move the tray to the top rack and broil another 3 to 5 minutes to cook the oysters through, brown the tops, and crisp the breadcrumbs. (Pay close attention to this step: the crumbs can go from browned to burned in a flash. I suggest cooking this last stage with the oven door cracked open and that you keep your attention directed to the task.) The oysters are fully cooked when they are hot throughout and their edges have curled away from the shell. Serve piping hot from the oven with crusty bread and lemon wedges, if desired. In my kitchen, these oysters are always accompanied by glasses of ice-cold Pernod. Severs 4 to 6