Named for Jean de Baptiste-le-Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, who founded New Orleans in 1718, Arnaud’s Oysters Bienville was created by and became popular under the restaurant’s founder, Arnaud Cazanave, in the1920s. Cazenave’s creation was a competitive response to the overwhelming attention Oysters Rockefeller was attracting at nearby Antoine’s Restaurant. Served baked on the half shell under a creamy dressing featuring shrimp, mushrooms, and Romano cheese bound with breadcrumbs, the elegant dish feels just right for a special occasion, but it is also simple and straightforward to prepare.
Shucking oysters is not for me. If it is not your jam either, you have some options. Most oyster bars are happy to set some shells aside for you or you can turn to Loftin Oysters (loftinoysters.com). Loftin’s stoneware oyster shells are sold by the dozen, and they are perfect for chargrilling oysters, as well as baking, broiling, stuffing, and smoking. The bottoms are flat, so no rock salt is needed for cooking. They are also reusable and can go straight into the dishwasher. Just purchase pre-shucked oysters and get after it.
Pour the brandy into a plastic cup before adding it to the hot pan. Never pour directly from the bottle unless experimenting with a Molotov cocktail.
The sauce can be made up to two days in advance and kept, refrigerated, in a sealed container.
Shared by Chef Tommy Digiovanni, Arnaud’s RestaurantServes 4
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2/3 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
1/2-pound boiled shrimp, finely diced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
4 tablespoons plain fine breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup finely minced flat-leaf parsley
Salt to taste
2 dozen oysters on the half shell (see NOTES)
Special equipment: 4 round baking pans filled with rock salt (See NOTES)
Add the vegetable oil to a large, heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers add the mushrooms and sauté until they have softened. Do not brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
In the same pan over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the garlic and shallots, stirring frequently, until softened. Take extreme care not to burn the garlic.
Add the diced shrimp, then sprinkle in the flour. Stir, then add the reserved mushrooms.
Deglaze the pan with the brandy while stirring constantly. Stir in the heavy cream and cook until smooth before adding the Romano cheese, dry breadcrumbs and parsley, white pepper, cayenne, and salt. Taste the mixture before adding salt. The Romano cheese is already packing a hearty dose of it, and you may not feel the need for more salt.
If the mixture seems too thick, thin it with a small amount of milk.
Remove the mixture from the heat, heat, allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours or overnight.
Remove the mixture from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you plan to bake the oysters.
Preheat the oven to 500 º F.
Nestle to oysters on their shells in the pans of rock salt, 6 oysters to a pan.
Top each oyster with 1 heaping tablespoon of Bienville sauce.
Bake the oysters until the sauce is browned and bubbling, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve at once.