What’s in a Name? Would a Seafood Dish by any other Taste as Good?

Photo by Ted Murphy

Photo by Ted Murphy

The short answer is yes! You didn’t need Shakespeare to tell you that the ingredients make the food, not the name. But, there are a few appetizers and entrées with rather obscure names that don’t appear to have any connection to the ingredients used in the recipes to make them. To clear up the mystery we’ve uncovered the origins of three items from our menu. Each seafood dish in this post has an unusually colorful history.

The first written publication known to exist mentioning the name “Clams Casino” appeared in the Washington Post in 1916. The dish was listed among a handful of other menu items from a local restaurant on 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.  We can only speculate as to whether or not the name reflects the same dish popularized the following year by Julius Keller, a waiter in Rhode Island. What we do know is that this tasty delicacy consisting of clams on the half shell baked with breadcrumbs and bacon originated in the North East, but found its way past the Mason Dixon line into New Orleans where it has been revived as a staple.  Lucky for you we serve this mouthwatering appetizer at lunch and dinner!

Photo by Billy's Stone Crab

Photo by Billy’s Stone Crab

Another well-known appetizer with an interesting history is Oysters Rockefeller. Baked with spinach, onions, celery, parsley, breadcrumbs, butter, and lemon juice, this bold seafood dish was supposedly a happy accident that occurred at a New Orleans restaurant in 1899. Story has it that the restaurant ran out of the prized snails used to make Escargot Bourguignonne. The chef substituted local oysters for the snails and the recipe was born. The dish was given the name “Rockefeller” after John D. Rockefeller to reflect its rich taste and texture.

Probably the most bizarre name for a seafood dish is Oscar. Who exactly is Oscar? Well, unlike the appetizers mentioned above, the recipe doesn’t pertain to one type of fish, or food for that matter. Oscar is a culinary style that includes asparagus, crabmeat, and béarnaise sauce. The earliest known reference to this culinary style dates back to the late 1800s when it is noted that King Oscar II of Sweden is said to have enjoyed it prepared with veal. The recipe caught on and the name was given to the dish in honor of his majesty. Here at the restaurant, Oscar includes the fresh catch of the day and is revered by many of our guests as one of our most delicious specialty entrées.

The idea of naming a dish after a person or place gained popularity in the early 1900s during the “shellfish fad”, but it likely started much earlier in Europe.  At the turn of the 20th century, baked shellfish dishes began popping up on menus all along the eastern seaboard and in an effort to distinguish themselves from other culinary regions, restaurant owners named their entrées after prominent people and places native to the North East. So the next time you come in for dinner and order one of these tasty dishes, you’ll know exactly how they got their famous names!

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