Hangtown fry is basically an omelet made with bacon, cornmeal-breaded oysters, and whatever else you feel like adding. Image source: Flickr CC user Britt-Knee
Forget New Year’s resolutions centered around denial. I’m gonna focus on what makes me happy. Eating oysters is one of my favorite things to do--give me the sun glinting off a body of water, a condensation-covered glass of bubbly next to me, and the cool, saline taste of a fresh oyster.
But you don’t need to be outside to enjoy these bivalves, nor do they need to be raw. With oysters in season, and the weather outside not necessarily conducive to picnicking, I’m going to try making a Hangtown fry this new year as part of my brunch menu. The omelette’s unlikely ingredient, oysters, may seem like a weird breakfast addition, but it will add some unique and historical (not to mention indulgent) fun to my go-to menu of bacon and eggs.
The Origin: Getting Rich or Getting Hanged?
There are two main stories behind the Hangtown fry and its two basic ingredients of eggs and oysters. One story says a gold miner who struck it rich walked into the main hotel in the mining town of Placerville, CA, and demanded to be made a meal of the most expensive, luxurious ingredients in house. At the time, that meant eggs, which were delicate and hard to transport without breaking, oysters that had to be brought in from San Francisco on ice, and bacon, which came from the East Coast.
The other story goes that a man in Placerville destined to be hanged demanded for his last meal oysters, bacon, and eggs since he knew they were difficult ingredients to come by and would delay his execution. Regardless of its origin story, nowadays, thanks to interstates and freight trucks, we can make our Hangtown fry using fresh raw oysters ordered online that are easy to get and actually fresher than supermarket oysters.
Shucking and Preparing Techniques
Oyster shucking sounds intimidating but it’s not hard once you get started. You could even make shucking oysters a part of your brunch party. When you’re ready to shuck them (I suggest waiting to do so until you are ready to make your omelet) I like to place a dish towel on the table, place the oyster on the towel, cover it with the other edge of the towel and rest my non-dominant hand on top of that. This way it doesn’t slide and you aren’t jabbing the shucker into the palm of your hand.
Using the tip of the oyster knife find the hinge that connects the two shells where the shells attach at a point. I like to approach it from the side a little bit, not dead on, and gently wiggle the tip of the blade under the lip of the top shell. Once the knife is between the shells, I twist clockwise (because I’m right-handed) as though turning a key in a keyhole. Some oysters will be easier to open than others and you’ll crack a few shells, but that isn’t a big deal since you’re just dredging and frying the meat up anyway.
The Other Pieces of the Puzzle: Bacon and Eggs
I bake my bacon, as I think it gives it a more evenly crisp texture. It also frees up your stove to do other things, and it means you have one less thing to keep an eye on. Lay the strips of bacon on a cookie sheet and put in an oven heated to 325 F. Check every 10 minutes until the bacon is crisp. Save the drippings from the cookie sheet to cook your oysters and eggs in, and once the bacon has cooled break it up into smaller pieces to fold into your eggs.
As for the eggs, here’s how I suggest making an omelet that doesn’t turn into scrambled eggs halfway through. Pour the beaten egg mixture into the pan and wait until they start to set around the edges of the pan. Once this happens you want to take a rubber spatula and start to push the outside cooked edges toward the middle of the pan, letting the rest of the mixture spill in to fill up the gap you’ve created. Keep repeating this until your eggs are cooked toward the bottom but still glossy and shiny on top--this will be when you add your fillings.
Hangtown Fry Recipe
Chop the scallions and sauté these with any other ingredients you want to add to your omelet.
Combine the ingredients of the oyster dredge in a bowl. Whisk egg for dredging with one teaspoon of water. Dip the oysters in the egg mixture then coat with the cornmeal mixture. Try to keep one hand for dipping in the egg and one hand to take the oyster out of the cornmeal mixture to minimize gloopy messes (otherwise you’ll end up breading your hand). Fry the oysters in about a ¼ cup of oil on medium high heat (when the oil is shimmering slightly, it’s ready for the oysters), flipping halfway through, until they’re golden on each side.
Crack the eggs for the omelet into a bowl, season with salt and pepper, add a couple tablespoons of milk and whisk together until smooth. Combine butter and bacon drippings (up to 2 tablespoons) in a pan, and once heated, pour in egg mixture. Allow to set slightly and start to push mixture into center of pan with a rubber spatula (as described above). Once the eggs are mostly set but still slightly glossy and runny at the top add the oysters, scallions, and any additional vegetables and herbs you’re using. Fold the omelet over and allow it to finish cooking for a couple minutes with the heat off. Serves four to six people.
Different Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult
The new year is a perfect time to try a new dish, especially one that’s fancy and healthy (okay, bacon isn’t exactly the most healthy ingredient, but you can throw in some vegetables to compensate). Online seafood vendors like Daily Fresh Fish can make trying something new easier by shipping impeccably fresh oysters right to you. Their seafood is incredibly fresh, minimally handled, and responsibly sourced. At Daily Fresh Fish, the seafood goes straight from their dock to your door, so you can learn a new skill, like shucking oysters, instead of scouring the store for what you need.