This dish is named for the founder of New Orleans, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville. It was created at Arnaud's Restaurant in the French Quarter. As Antoine's was known for Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters Bienville became one of Count Arnaud's signature dishes.
1/2 cup thinly sliced bacon (4 slices)
1 cup diced ham (1/4-inch pieces)
3 cups finely chopped yellow onion
2 cups finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped green sweet pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon each dried thyme, crushed; and dried oregano, crushed
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic (4 cloves)
2 cups finely chopped mushrooms
1 cup finely chopped, peeled and deveined shrimp
1/4 cup Dry Sack Sherry®
1 cup oyster liquor or clam juice
3 cups half and half or light cream
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
36 oysters on the half-shell
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)
In a 4- to 6- quart Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of drippings. Add ham; cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add onions, celery, peppers, and bay leaf. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until onion becomes soft and clear (about 10 minutes).
Reduce heat to low. Add salt, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add shrimp; cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sherry; cook for 1 minute. Add oyster liquor; cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan.
Add half and half; bring mixture to boiling over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium; simmer, uncovered, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove bay leaf; discard. Using slotted spoon, remove 1 1/4 cups of vegetable mixture; set aside. Using a blender or an immersion blender, blend remaining mixture until smooth. Return blended mixture to pan.
Make a blond roux: in small skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Gradually whisk in flour; cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Bring sauce to boil and gradually add roux, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low; simmer, uncovered, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover; chill 3 hours or until fully chilled. Cover and chill reserved vegetable mixture.
Open oysters in shells (see tip below). With a knife, remove oysters from shells; drain well. Wash shells. Place each oyster in the deep half of each shell. Arrange on bed of coarse rock salt in shallow pans. (Or, steady shells on pan lined with crumpled foil.)
To serve, preheat oven to 500°F . Remove vegetable mixture from refrigerator; set aside until serving time. Top each oyster on the half-shell with about 3 tablespoons sauce. Bake for 15 minutes. Top each oyster with a rounded teaspoon of the reserved vegetable mixture. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. Serve immediately. Makes 36 oysters (8 to 10 servings).