What other food maintains its popularity, when menus regularly warn "This might be bad for you if your immune system is screwed up. Don't eat it!" Oysters are as safe as any other worthwhile pursuit.
|My wife Frances 5 years after her seafood|
faux pas. She was, and is, a pretty woman, and
the possessor of the classic Naugahyde Palate.
However, if she says it's good -- it is.
But I really don't like........
It's hard to imagine a person who does not like seafood. When I learn of such alien species, I remember when my wife, as a stunning 25-year-old newlywed, admitted to a seafood packer friend that she did not really like shrimp! Maybe she corrected herself and said, "I really don't like raw shrimp." I hope so. Maybe she was so pretty, he pretended not to notice.
|Daughter Sarah, pretending fear of a|
crawfish. The only thing more threatened by Sarah than a
pile of crawfish is a dozen oysters or a pint of beer.
It makes a father proud!
Refer to liver as "steak" when you serve it to them and make sure they remember that God and Santa want them to eat meat medium rare. Their little palates will naturally broaden beyond Pop-Tarts and Honey Nut Cheerios.
My Noble Friend Cassostrea virginica
One Gallon Metal Lithographed
Oyster Can like the ones my father
sold along the Gulf Coast
There, the cans would be held for customer's orders. The lithograph images on the cans were stock scenes of oysters or shells. The name and oyster packing license number would be stamped on each can with a machine supplied by the can manufacturer, Steel & Tin of Baltimore Md. (1912-1970)
|Faithful dog Taffy, my sister Claudia and me on the |
hood of the pick up used to deliver oyster cans to customers.
You can see "Coleman Marine & Hdw., Ltd." on the door.
Taken in Magnolia Springs, Ala. in 1960
Later he graduated to a bob-tail van for his trips to Louisiana. He dubbed the old truck "The Cajun Queen." I sincerely hope the old Campbell 66 van (with "Humpin' to Please" and a camel painted on the side) was the only Cajun Queen Daddy spent any time with.
Metal oyster cans have gone the way of the rotary dial telephone. In one of my other lives, I sold plastic containers and became very familiar with what the industry calls "thin-wall" plastic containers. I thought how inefficient and expensive the metal containers were, compared to the plastic. It was ironic that years after my father's death, I started my time traveling and selling, peddling containers -- just like he had.
I remember the last visit to my father from the representatives of Steel & Tin Co., after plastic containers had taken over from the metal cans. By 1970 my father's business had also moved on, to marine supplies for the commercial shrimping fleet and boat building business.
"We're here to say goodbye to old times, Jimmy," the salesman said. "Goodbye to a great relationship and old times."
|Daddy in front of Coleman Marine at 119 S. McKenzie St|
in Foley, Ala., in 1960. He was killed in an automobile
accident on December 21, 1983.
During that week my mother was ill, I must have eaten a lot of them!
Fried Oysters are like commission salesmen (something both my father and I were at one time)
There is nothing better than a good one, and nothing worse than a bad one!
Don't overcook the oysters, and keep the oil hot!
|Oysters are very easy to fry, and very easy to fry improperly. Note the only |
underlined sentence in the recipe. Do not overcook.
Notes on ingredients
Two eggs, two tablespoons cream, teaspoon salt,
1/8 teaspoon pepper -- simple enough.
|Oysters, even if a little mangled in shucking,|
lined up on ice to do my bidding.
Our oysters are native to the Gulf Coast.
For an fascinating tale of Oysters see the Tuscaloosa Times article by Ben Windham,
|Sacks of oysters, with tags attached|
|Oysters piled on an oyster boat. The oysterman on the right|
is about to put the oyster into a sack -- a new clean one at that.
The boat unloads the oysters at a packing house.
In this process an “oyster tag” showing where and when the oyster was harvested is attached to the sack which now contains the oyster.
Once a natural reef is destroyed -- it is hard to replace. If you want to get technical on the subject see http://www.mobilebaynep.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Habitat-Loss-Characterization.pdf .
|A natural reef on Mobile Bay, uncovered at low tide.|
|Dump the shells back, 1990s. Shells are pushed|
overboard with fire hoses in an effort to rebuild
oyster reefs destroyed by shell dredges.
The oysters are also graded by size.
1) Get a oyster knife. I have an old Carvel Hall carbon steel knife and a Dexter Russell stainless knife. I am so ham-fisted at shucking oysters that either works about as well as the other.
The kind of meal you use makes a big, big difference in the texture of the finished product. Below, we'll cook oysters with both "cracker meal" and yellow corn meal.
The "Oyster Fry" corn meal and very finely ground yellow corn meal is the traditional approach. For this recipe, I use a coarser ground corn meal. It is available in that most elegant of specialty grocery stores, Winn-Dixie, and marketed as "Dixie Lilly" corn meal. It is just as good as some expensive stuff for making polenta, and gives a fried oyster a nice texture that stands up well.
The "cracker meal" used here consist of --- crackers. I just crush saltine crackers to a coarse meal.
|Oysters, patted dry and ready to fry, egg on|
the left, cracker meal above and corn meal
below. The oysters go from egg to meal to frying
in one motion. I may let them sit in the egg but, I
never let them sit in the meal
How hard can that be? (My wife's distant cousin executed the instruction "separate two eggs" by putting one on each end of the kitchen table, so I will explain) I have seasoned the meal rather than the egg, but can't tell if it makes the oysters any better. Beat the egg and cream with a fork so no distinct white or yellow shows.
Dip oysters into this mixture and then gently roll in meal.
Here is one of the only techniques that has ever impressed either of my children. The very simple "wet hand/dry hand" technique of breading and frying. Simply, pick up the oyster with your left (wet) hand, and place it in the egg mixture. After making sure it is completely coated with egg, shake off the excess and drop it in the meal. Use your right (dry) hand to toss a little meal on the oyster and then roll it in the meal. Pick up the coated oyster with your dry hand and put it in the oil. When James and Sarah were small, and helped with this operation, they would carp "I know, Daddy, I know. Wet hand, dry hand, wet hand, dry hand." Later, when some television star cook did the same thing, they were duly impressed. Impressed or not, it keeps your hands from becoming a gooey mass as you work.
Fry in hot oil, turning only once. There is a Gulf Coast Gourmet direction. "Fry in hot oil" Everybody known just how to do that, right? The directions also say "If frying in deep fat." I always fry oysters in deep fat. Unless you are pan-fying rather than deep fat frying for some other reason, deep fat the is way to go. We used a deep, heavy straight-sided pan here. It holds plenty of oil, which is very important to have a sufficient mass of oil to keep the oil hot when adding oysters. Heat the oil so it passes 350F on your thermometer. I use a Thermopen, http://www.thermoworks.com which is the best thermometer out there and one of the most useful things in the kitchen.
There is a lot of information out there on cooking oils. The basic idea is this: Different fats break down and become useless for frying at different temps. These are generally referred to as "smoke points". As you can see, we are frying from 350F to 375F. So, pick an oil that works. Refined peanut and refined soybean oil both have a 450F smoke point, so both are a good choice. When the oil turns dark, get rid of it. It has started to degrade, and will make your oysters greasy! You can guard against this by controlling the heat to keep the oil from exceeding 375F.
|Casamentos The Temple of Oyster Frying |
on Magazine St. in New Orleans. They fry
in dutch ovens over the stove. You know because
you pass through the kitchen on the way
to the rest-rooms.
|High sided pot, fry ladle, rack for draining|
the oysters. Frying three at a time. It takes
fewer than 10-minutes to fry a pint of oysters.
Remove when they are golden brown. If frying oysters in deep fat, when the oysters rise to the top remove them. Do not overcook.
"Golden Brown" is one of those cooking terms like "seal in the juices", I don't know what it means! When the oyster pop to the surface of the oil, roll them over with your ladle. By the time you've rolled all three or four over, the first is ready to come out. The underlining in the recipe tells you to beware of the common error. They cook very quickly. An overcooked oyster is a waste of money, and suited only for sling-shot ammunition.
Put in only enough oysters at a time so as not the chill the hot oil.
"Enough." I wonder what that means? Three or four at a time is plenty, because they cook so quickly. That is why you must have everything organized and ready to go. If you have help, let them bread and you fry. (Children are good for something).
Take out and drain on absorbent paper.
Although this will cause my sister to drop to the floor in a fit of apoplexy, I must disagree with my mother. Drain the oysters on a rack over a sheet pan. I think putting them on paper just holds the oil next to the oyster. If the oil is hot (and it will be!) they will not absorb much oil anyway. I always season them, while they are very hot,
with a big pinch of kosher salt at this point. (Tiny pinch=thumb and forefinger, pinch=two fingers, big pinch=three fingers. Now you know)
|A simple (chipped) platter of fried oysters.|
You should, however, tinker with the breading ingredient here if you like. Panko crumbs give one texture and flavor, seasoned breadcrumbs another. Put out several types of breading and try new things. If it's really good, serve it. If it does not work, you still have to eat it. Oysters are too precious to throw away!
A wonderful and kind (to say nothing of beautiful) friend from my youth reminded me of the time I cooked oysters for poet and writer Eugene Walter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Walter
It was 20 years ago. Walter suggested poaching oysters in heavy cream and then garnishing them with well drained capers. It is a great and simple dish from an interesting guy. This has nothing to do with Gulf Coast Gourmet, but it shows what a versatile gift oysters are.
Next, Shrimp. The undisputed king of seafoods.