What do you get when you pair a Cook editor from New York with a renowned Southern chef and ask them to develop an appetizer recipe? Southern oysters Rockefeller.
When chef Art Smith and I began brainstorming appetizer ideas for InterContinental Hotel’s Kitchen Passport Program, seasonality and Southern were at the top of our priorities. As a seasoned New Yorker, I looked to chef Smith to educate me on what he was excited about this season down in Atlanta, and was delighted to hear that oysters were just hitting their peak this fall. With oysters and appetizers in mind, we decided as a team that we’d do a riff on the classic oysters Rockefeller dish, and from there our creative wheels started turning.
I have a few favorite Southern ingredients that are, while obvious, undeniably delicious, and so I was excited that chef Smith humored me by allowing us to work them into the recipe. As quickly as I was able to suggest an ingredient, chef Smith — who has been known to think fast on his feet due to a few stints on competitions such as Top Chef Masters — would work it into the recipe. Grits? No problem; we’d season them and use them as breading for the oysters. Collard greens? But of course, they’ll replace the spinach used in the traditional recipe. And finally: buttermilk, something that is so widely used in chef Smith's favorite dish, fried chicken, and we’d use it to marinade the oysters before frying. With a few subtle additions, such as a Tabasco aioli (because we know that spiciness is welcomed in the South) and crispy country ham — a nod to Southern Art’s expansive ham bar — a recipe was born.
When we began working together in the kitchen of Southern Art at InterContinental Buckhead in Atlanta, we learned that we were quite the impressive duo. With the help of Southern Art’s executive chef, we put the finishing touches on our recipe and tested it with ease. The results were more impressive than we could have imagined. The grits proved to be the perfect breading for frying the oysters, because they became crispy fast enough to avoid overcooking the tender mollusk, and the seasonings added a flavorful bite to the oyster, making them delicious even all by themselves. A rich béchamel sauce was the ideal complement to the bitter collard greens, and with the combination of the spicy aioli and crunchy ham, the flavors and textures of the dish were perfectly balanced. The appetizer went down as a hit at our tasting event, and we are confident it will be a success as a new addition to InterContinental’s iPad Cookbook recipe collection. Here’s a sneak peak of the recipe for you to enjoy, and stay tuned to hear about what else chef Smith and I cooked up during our time together in Atlanta.
Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce