HANGTOWN OYSTER FRY
Shinin' Times at The Fort
by Holly Arnold Kinney
The story goes that the dish originated in a California Gold Rush town called Hangtown, which had gotten its name thanks to an overzealous judge who was not afraid to mete out the ultimate punishment. Today, Hangtown is a peaceful place called Placerville, but back in 1849, it was a rough-and-tumble settlement. A prospector arrived in town after ten hard months in the mountains, ready to celebrate with his newfound gold. He asked the owner of a tent restaurant to fix him up with the richest dish he could and ended up with this, which he named Hangtown Fry.
• 5 large eggs
• 2 tablespoons beer or water
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 10 select fresh oysters, shucked
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 4 tablespoons coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves
• 4 slices hot buttered toast
In a mixing bowl, beat or whisk the eggs with the beer until frothy. In another bowl, combine the flour, pepper, and salt. Dry the oysters on a paper towel, then roll in the flour mixture.
Heat the butter in a large skillet, rotating the skillet to coat the bottom and partway up the sides. Place the floured oysters evenly around the skillet and saute for 3 minutes, turning with a spatula, until browned.
Pour the egg mixture over the oysters. Lower the heat under the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes, swirling the pan and poking holes in the cooking eggs so that all the egg is cooked. Use a spatula to gently loosen the eggs from the walls of the pan. Gradually, when the bottom is firm enough and lightly browned and the center is very moist but not runny, fold the omelet in half. Slide it onto a serving platter and garnish with parsley. Serve with hot buttered toast.
OYSTERS IN SANTA FE
Susan Shelby Magoffin was one of the first Anglo women to come across the Santa Fe Trail in 1846, traveling with her trader husband, Samuel Magoffin. She kept a diary that the Yale Press still publishes today, in which she describes eating oysters on the half shell and drinking the finest French Champagne at a party in Santa Fe. Where did they get fresh oysters in landlocked Santa Fe? They pulled them from the Chesapeake Bay, of course! The shippers layered the live oysters in large oak casks, their "mouths" facing upward, and then covered them with shaved ice and cornmeal. As the wagon train traveled from one town to the next, the drivers replenished the ice and cornmeal to keep the oysters alive and well fed. Week by week, month by month, town by town, eventually the wagon train arrived in Santa Fe with plump, living oysters ready to be shucked and eaten with chilled Champagne.