Deep Fried Oysters

I got a deep fryer for Christmas this past year.  It's not exactly a clean operation, but it's certainly easier than pouring a 1/2 gallon of canola oil in your dutch oven, turning the burner to medium-high, and hoping for the perfect, southern style fried chicken.  I've wasted plenty of time flicking AP flour into hot oil and thinking "sure, that seems about right."  The tempature is always accurate, there's an easy-to-use fry basket (no diving into scalding oil with a slotted spoon), and it's a self-contained, splatter-free operation.  Don't worry, it's not easy or clean enough to make fish'n'chips a daily staple in your diet.  All you cardiologists out there can rest easy. 

I have, however, been frying all sorts of fun stuff.  Cornish game hens, sand dabs, mezcal tapatio hot wings, mixed tempura, Milky Ways, Indiana style pork loin sandwiches.  There's an endless amount of things that could always be made better with a crispy, golden crust.  I'll be honest, though, spilling the meager $8.95 for Yen's Kitchen's General Tso's chicken is certainly more time and effort efficient than prepping, dredging, frying, and worse, cleaning up after making it at home for yourself.  Leaving it to the pros is often more reasonable, but there is something rewarding about making your own "take out" food at home, from time to time. 

Naturally, fried oysters eventually came to mind.  Simple enough approach, no?  Cornmeal dredge mixed with an Emeril's Essense of sorts and served alongside a remoulade or flavored aioli, right?  Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the classic fried oyster.  The Walrus and The Carpenter's are hands down in my top five of cooked, or "quality added," oysters.  But hey, why not have a little fun and explore the possibility of oysters fried in different ways.  As I near 30 years of age I find myself in very different circumstances on a warm Saturday evening than I had less than a decade ago.  Eight years past it was tequila shots, Natty Light, beer pong, and power hour Kanye mix tapes.  Now, it's canola oil, buttermilk, AP flour, and a macro lens.  Oh, and Tecate, the West Coast version of Natty Light.  Never forget where you came from.

So, with three dozen wrist-breaking Hog Island Sweetwater mediums shucked and ready to go, let the frying begin. 

Be wary of the self-proclaimed oyster 'ficianado who says "I only like the small ones"

Potato Starch Fried Oysters (Kaki Karage)

Chicken karage is a dish of fairly high repute these days.  Savory, flavor-filled chicken thighs soaked in a soy mirin marinade, dredged in potato starch and deep fried.  The dredge is the key.  Potato starch is a curious thing in the canola crisped world.  It only requires a light dusting and straight in to the oil.  It has a certain stickiness to it, requiring a chopstick separation of individual pieces once dropped, but beyond that it is all one can hope for in a fried product.  It's a clean, club-handless prep, absorbs very little oil, and stays crispy for days.  If you've ever wondered why that Korean or Japanese fried chicken you love is so good, potato starch is often the answer.

As a huge fan of potato starch frying, oysters karage was one of the first things to come to mind.  I actually had made them before for my buddy's Vice Munchies video on the life of an oyster shucker.  Best to start out with a tried and true winner.

They turned out great.  Served alongside a spicy, bright yuzukosho aioli and garnished with quick fried keffir lime leaves and scallions, the oysters karage were as tasty as we remembered.  I over coated a few, which led to a crispy outside but a little potato starch stickiness remained under the crust.  A lesson well learned.  Always dredge lightly when doing karage. The crispy keffir lime leaves were a nice find, though.  Seriously, they taste exactly like Froot Loops when fried.  Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a clever spin on the "follow your nose" slogan.  Ideas?

 Chicken-Fried Oysters

Put "chicken-fried" next to anything on a menu and it's going to sell.  Yet there are so many different and well respected approaches to the arguably national dish.  Without running the thesis deserving gamut that defines chicken-fried, I'll give you my understanding of the traditional.  

1) Marinate product in seasoned buttermilk for an extended period of time.
2) Strain product and dredge in seasoned AP flour.
3) Dip product in a mix of egg and buttermilk.
4) Dredge product, once more, in seasoned AP flour.
5) Fry

That's the exact process we did.  Three hours or so in seasoned buttermilk, the three tier dredge process, and right into rippin' hot oil.

They ended up with a pleasantly crunchy, craggily exterior and a fluffy interior that lead into the briny oyster.  They did "die" quickly, though, as several fried foods do, and lost that desired crunch.  I think the high moisture content of oysters softens the breading quickly.  Be sure to serve them immediately out of the fryer.  Topped with chives and served alongside a maple bourbon cayenne sauce, they could easily be an excuse to get out of Sunday morning church.  "Sorry, mom.  I really want to go but I have to prep the chicken-fried oysters everyone loves to have for brunch."  Oh, and topped with bacon bits, which obviously makes everything better.

Buffalo Oysters

I always get really excited when I see something "buffalo" flavored.  Spicy Buffalo Wheat Thins, Blazin' Buffalo & Ranch Doritos, Frank's Red Hot Buffalo sunflower seeds.  A big part of me really wants these products to be good and hopes they are, as the buffalo wing flavor is so incredible.  Every time I see a new one, I have to buy it.  However, they always end up tasting awful.  And yet, like a vicious buffalo seasoned Groundhog Day, I keep buying them, optimistically thinking "this one just might be good."  I now know why people call "hope" a four letter word.

I find the same to be true of buffalo style seafood.  Shrimp and oysters seem to be the most common.  Often simply breaded and tossed in buffalo sauce, they both come out okay, but never smack me as amazing.  To figure out a solution to this problem, I think we need to go back to what makes the actual hot wing so good in the first place.

What's everyone's favorite part of the bird?  Let's be honest, your most base instincts never say "go straight for the white breast meat" while the Thanksgiving turkey is being carved.  That skin that falls right off, however, is awfully convenient, and, in your heart of hearts, the most delicious bite of the whole meal.  It's true of all poultry.  From the decadent peking duck to the humble buffalo wing, rich crispy skin is the common denominator of deliciousness.

So, why not bring chicken skin and oyster together?

Hog Island Sweetwaters wrapped in chicken thigh skin
This was by far the craziest and most ambitious of fries.  Would the skin stay on?  Will the oyster over cook before the skin gets crispy?  Will the "franken-oysters" even taste good?  

I also decided to make my own ranch to go with them, seeing as I already had buttermilk and several different herbs for garnish.  All ranch really is is thickened buttermilk with seasoning and herbs.  I figured, why not throw it all in a mason jar and shake the shit out of it, just like homemade butter is made from cream?  Maybe throw an egg and oil in to help?  How hipsterly cool would it be to say "Hey, guys, I made my own ranch dressing.  Did it all by hand in a mason jar.  No big deal.  Also, do you know any typewriters that have Helvetica? I want to write a blog about writing a blog on a typewriter.  So meta."

But yea, turns out that doesn't work.  I was an idiot for thinking buttermilk would thicken.  It is, after all, the left over product from when the butter has already separated from the cream.  Hence, buttermilk.  Oh, and oil and egg yolks don't emulsify into mayo when shaken in a mason jar, either.  Duly noted.  I did end up busting out the Cuisinart to make mayo, added buttermilk, herbs, and seasoning: it was homemade ranch, but was certainly no Hidden Valley. 

With oysters wrapped, ranch made, and a butter, vinegar, Frank's Red Hot sauce simmering in a bowl, it was go time.

Surprisingly, the oysters and skin stayed together in the fryer.  No toothpick needed, they just stuck to one another.  After about 4 minutes, the skin crisped up and into the bowl they went for coating.

Were they good?  The most memorable quote of the night by far was after the first bite:  "Anthony...I've gone too far..."  Understandably, it was just me and my buddy, and we had already downed several beers and had a dozen fried oysters each.  And chicken thigh skin is significantly fattier than chicken drumette skin.  Though it appeared to be crisped up, the skin still held a world of rich poultry fat waiting to burst on the first bite.  I can say the first one was delicious, but anymore than that and you could feel the butter, ranch, and chicken skin slowing your heart.

At the end of the day, any excuse to break out both my shucker and deep fryer is a good time.  Not all my fried oyster ideas came out perfectly, but they were certainly fun to make and insightful into the abounding possibilities of deep fried shellfish.  Though I do claim to be an oyster purist, I think Julie Andrews should have thrown "fried oysters" between "raindrops on roses" and "warm woolen mittens," cause they're certainly one of my favorite things. 

The SF Oyster Nerd


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  2. Oyster Nerd - Please check out this NHK World (English language Japanese television network) program about an oyster farmer in Japan who is a noted ecologist. His name is Shigeatsu Hatakeyama. His oyster farm was devastated by the March 2011 tsunami. He has written a children's book about the wisdom of oysters (translated into English).

  3. Hello SF Oyster Nerd! Are you still active on this blog? I work for a book publisher that does local/regional history and nonfiction books, and we've been interested in publishing on the topic of the West Coast's oyster culture. I've been seeking writers or insiders who are familiar with the topic, and I found your site! I've really enjoyed reading your posts and I would love the opportunity to talk to you some time. If you still receive comments from this blog and can read this message, I'd love to hear from you and can be reached at Thanks for the work you do! Cheers,

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