Oyster Celebration


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In early March 2020 when I checked in to Commander’s Palace for brunch only to discover the Oyster and Absinthe Dome absent from the menu, I was compelled to call Chef Tory McPhail to protest. He assured the dish would return seasonally with the return of Autumn. I could have wept with relief. Just in case, I wrestled the recipe out of him. Upon my death, an embalming in the concoction (oysters, artichoke, bacon, absinthe, cream, garlic, shallot, tarragon) that awaits my spoon under the lofty, golden puff of pastry would suit me just fine. 

That said, two weeks after that visit came the COVID-19 closures. Months later Chef Tory headed back to his Pacific Northwest roots and Chef Megan “Meg” Bickford now helms the kitchen. As she puts her own stamp on the menu the future of this dish remains uncertain.

Oyster and Absinthe Dome

Serves 4

1 (9″ x 11″) sheet frozen puff pastry, such as Pepperidge Farms brand, thawed and chilled

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 slices bacon, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large shallot, finely chopped

3/4 cup absinthe, pastis, or Herbsaint

20 medium Gulf oysters, shucked (1/3 cup of the liquor reserved)

2 cups heavy cream

1 (9-oz.) package frozen artichoke hearts, roughly chopped

¼ cup finely chopped fresh tarragon

Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. 

2. Using a 3″ cookie cutter or a drinking glass cut 4 circles from the puff pastry. Form the remaining pastry into a ball and reserve it for another use, if desired.

3. Transfer the puff pastry circles to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and brush each circle with egg mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set the puff pastry domes aside.

4. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the absinthe or pastis. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the oyster liquor and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cream has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

5. Add the oysters, artichokes, and tarragon to the reduced cream mixture and season lightly with salt and white pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the oysters’ edges begin to curl, about 2 minutes. Divide the oyster stew between four 6-oz. ramekins or bowls and top each with a puff pastry circle.

6. Serve immediately to great applause.

  1. How often are you going to pour yourself a glass of pastis, absinthe, or Pernod? Thought so. Instead of investing in an entire bottle head to a craft cocktail bar and ask them to sell you ¾ cup (6 ounces).
  2. The oyster stew can be prepared up to two days in advance. Stop after you add the oyster liquor and the cream, cool to room temperature, seal in a container and refrigerate. To complete the dish gently reheat the stew before adding the oysters, artichokes, and tarragon to the reduced cream mixture and proceeding with the recipe. 
  3. This recipe screams for a celebration (Bye-Bye Covid? a new roof? Thanksgiving? It’s Friday?) and celebrations scream for Champagne. My friend Christian Havener, the certified sommelier for Rouse’s Markets, recommends Nicolas Feuillatte Palms d’Or Vintage Brut Champagne 2008, an assertive, heavy hitter with the gumption to stand up to the flavors in this rich dish.  It will set you back about $129.99. But, hey, you are celebrating, life is short, and you frugally saved all that money by buying the liqueur for the dish from a bar.




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