Posted by: acooksca | 02/15/2011

Oysters Kirkpatrick

Oysters Kirkpatrick

The internet is rife with different claims to and versions of the dish called Oysters Kirkpatrick. Most involve oysters, bacon, tomato ketchup and a sprinkling of cheese. The Palace Hotel in San Francisco has a strong claim to the recipe dating from the late 1890’s.

British colonists brought a thick, dark condiment called Ketchup to America. The sauce evolved using all manner of components such as apples, walnuts, beans and eventually tomatoes. In 1896, the New York Tribune reported that tomato ketchup was America’s national condiment, available “on every table in the land.”

About Oysters Kirkpatrick The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (John F. Mariani 1999) tells us “the creation of this dish is credited to Chef Ernest Arbogast of the Palm Court (later the Garden Court) of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel. It is named after Colonel John C. Kirkpatrick, who managed the hotel from 1894 to 1914. A supposedly original recipe for Oysters Kirkpatrick is: Combine 1 c. ketchup, 1 c. chili sauce, 1 t. Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 t. A1 sauce, 1 t. chopped parsley, and half a small chopped green pepper. Cut bacon slices into thirds, and cook halfway. Shuck oysters, dip them into sauce, and place them in shells. Place oysters on a bed of rock salt, cover with bacon, and sprinkle on Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F. until bacon is crisp.”

Oysters Kirkpatrick in The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book (pub.1916) informs us the dish is made of oysters on the half shell seasoned with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, grated cheese and a dab of butter on top. Bake for 5 minutes.

By the publication in 1952 of West Coast Cook Book (Helen Brown) the recipe had become ever more simplified and she gives us “…the Palace Hotel’s own recipe, graciously sent for inclusion in this book. Open oysters on deep shell, put in oven for about 3 or 4 minutes until oysters shrink. Pour off the liquor, then add small strip of bacon and cover with catsup and place in a very hot oven for about 5 or 6 minutes (according to oven) until glazed to a nice golden brown.”

I met Oysters Kirkpatrick during the 1980’s at Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto (opened 1890, 4th street Berkeley). Their version was heavy with cocktail sauce and thick cut bacon, the oyster hardly noticeable. My recipe aims to highlight the oysters by using a lighter, tangy homemade cocktail sauce and thin pancetta instead of bacon.

Oysters Kirkpatrick

8 large or medium oysters (in a jar or shell)
8 strips thinly sliced pancetta
Finely grated Parmesan cheese

Cocktail Sauce
¼ cup tomato catsup
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash salt and pepper

Heat the oven broiler.
Drain the oysters from their juice and wrap individually using one pancetta slice per oyster. Mix the cocktail sauce ingredients and taste for salt and pepper. The oysters will exude some liquid as they cook, thinning and adding their distinctive flavor to the sauce.
Use all but a few spoonfuls of the sauce to cover the bottom of a small ovenproof pan or in the bottom half shells of the oysters. Place the oysters on the sauce and broil on the highest level of the oven for 5 minutes or until the pancetta begins to brown and crisp.

Use the remaining sauce to thinly coat the top of each oyster and sprinkle with a pinch of Parmesan. Run under the broil about 1 minute, just to glaze the oysters. Serve in the casserole (or half shell) with French bread for the sauce.

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