Oysters Dunbar

Next to the Holy Grail, the most difficult thing in the world to find is a recipe from a restaurant that is no longer in business. I’m asked for them at the rate of about one a week. Some such requests come up again and again. I think I have been asked for this one at least a hundred times.

Corinne Dunbar’s was a unique restaurant on St. Charles Avenue that operated more like a private home. It had a fixed menu each day, and you never knew what you’d be served. But you hoped it would be oysters Dunbar, the restaurant’s most famous dish. It was an oyster-and-artichoke casserole, and although I have never been able to obtain an authentic recipe from original sources, I’ve been able to piece together enough facts about it to come up with this one. At the very least, it seems close to what I remember from the one time I went to Dunbar’s in the early 1970s.

  • 4 large artichokes
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 1 stick, plus 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1/4 cup thinly-sliced green onion
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco
  • 2 dozen oysters
  • Oyster water, up to one cup
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 2 Tbs. salt and half the lemon juice. Cook the artichokes until tender, then remove from the water and allow to cool.

2. Scrape the meat from the outer artichoke leaves. When you get to the hearts, pull them apart and keep the whole leaves. Also chop the artichoke bottom into medium dice.

3. In a skillet, heat the stick of butter until it bubbles, and stir in the flour to form a loose blonde roux. Add the green onions and cook until tender.

4. Lower the heat to medium-low. Add the oyster water and whisk until the pan contents are as thick as molasses. Add the oysters, and cook for another two 2 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste.

5. Scatter the reserved artichoke pieces in a baking dish. Add the skillet contents. Top with bread crumbs. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 12-15 minutes, until the bread crumbs are browned and the rapid bubbling of the liquid contents has begun to slow.

6. Allow to cool for about five minutes. Serve in small dishes with pasta Bordelaise, or as an appetizer.

Serves four to six.

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  1. Robert Hardy on January 15, 2017

    This recipe is pretty darn close, but not yet on the mark. The method described produces a dish closer to what I remember than any other I have tried. What is missing, however, comes with the “salt, pepper, tabasco” to taste. This needs to be expanded, and improved upon. This is the step that truly makes this item one of the legends of culinary history/ Not all salt comes under an umbrella. Not all pepper comes in a red and white can. But, all Tabasco comes in a glass bottle (or nowadays, also in foil packets).

    First the Salt. Experiment with sea salt. I finally settled on plain old Kosher Salt.
    Second. Must be a mixture: Fine ground Black [Regal Brand – 4 parts] Fine ground White [Regal Brand – 1 part] Cayenne [ Any bran – this is too hot for me to be able to tell the difference – 1 part].

    No Tabasco – The Cayenne supplies the heat

    The missing ingredient – 4 sprigs of Fresh Thyme. Essential. Not just ordinary thyme – this must be Gulf Coast grown Thyme.

    Also the bread crumbs must be special. They must be made from stale French baguettes. Now that does not mean you have to be in NOLA to fine baguettes. There are Vietnamese bakeries everywhere now, and they all seem to be able to make the real deal. – Authentic French Baguettes. If they don’;t go completely stale within 48 hours, throw them away, as they are not the real deal. If they do go stale, rejoice, and place them in a blender or food processor, and make bread crumbs. (Bread crumbs are the ultimate leftover dish.)

    Now you have “Oysters Dunbar”.

    Essential Notes:
    1. Fresh thyme is essential. NEVER substitute dried thyme in this recipe. I am not an “herb” snob. I love dried herbs. But Dried herbs and fresh herbs taste differently. I believe both are essential to the full range of Louisiana flavors. In this dish, however, only fresh Gulf Coast thyme will work.

    2. Tabasco or Cayenne. Maybe it is because I now live in Houston, and my family all prefers “Cajun Chef” we don’t have any Tabasco in the pantry. (In truth, we also have no “Cajun Chef” in the pantry; it is always on the table.) So Tabasco or Cayenne, take your pick.