If you live in New Orleans, you can easily pick up a pint of freshly shucked oysters at most grocery stores, especially in late fall and throughout winter as residents prepare to make oyster dishes that are traditional there for the holiday table.
Gulf of Mexico oysters usually are fat and salty. If they are fresh, we eat them straight from the shell, but they also are great for frying and then tucking into a sandwich or eating on a platter with fresh lemon juice or a touch of tartar sauce.
Louisiana's bigger oysters make better fryers because they are inexpensive and because their size and plumpness allow you to more easily avoid the kiss of death: Over-frying.
Crisp on the outside and custardy on the inside is the goal for fried oysters, and in her cookbook "Mosquito Supper Club," restaurateur Melissa M. Martin describes how you should use your senses rather than a timer when deciding if the bivalves are done. She writes: "The oysters will make a lot of noise at first and then calm down — keep your face and appendages away from the pot as the oysters talk. Listen for the moment when they quiet down; that's when they are done."
The issue for many home cooks, however, can be getting your hands on freshly shucked oysters. If you don't live adjacent to oyster-rich waters, you can order the bivalves online or visit a seafood market and ask if they will shuck them for you.
Shucked oysters usually are sold by the pint. The number of oysters in a pint will vary dramatically depending on their size. For example, small oysters may come as many as 25 to 30 to a pint, while a pint of medium or large oysters could yield 16 to 18 per pint.
Fried Oysters With Garlic Rice
- For the rice:
- 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup long-grain white rice
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- For the oysters:
- Peanut oil or another neutral oil, for frying
- 1 cup fine-ground cornmeal
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pinch ground cayenne pepper
- 1 pint shucked oysters, well-drained
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Hot sauce, to taste, plus more for serving
- For serving:
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for serving
- Scant ¼ cup thinly sliced green onion, for serving
- Lemon, optional
In a medium saucepan over high heat, melt the butter, add the rice and toss to coat. Add 1 cup water, the whole garlic cloves and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, in a large heavy-bottom pot over medium-high heat, add 3 inches of oil and heat to 375 degrees. Use an instant-read thermometer or test the oil by dropping a bit of flour into it. If the flour sizzles, the oil is ready.
Set a paper-lined tray next to the stove.
In a small bowl, combine the cornmeal, cornstarch, salt, black pepper and cayenne.
Dredge the oysters in the cornmeal mixture and carefully add them to the hot oil. Use caution: Oysters have a lot of water in them, so they will pop and sputter in the hot oil. If they do not, the oil is not hot enough.
Look for the oysters to turn a light golden and "quiet down." As soon as an oyster has stopped sputtering, lift it out using a spider, slotted spoon or tongs. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of the oyster, so it is better to use your eyes and ears. It should take 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overcook. Do not crowd the oysters in the pot. Cook in batches, if necessary.
Place the fried oysters on the paper-lined tray to drain. Then, transfer the drained, fried oysters to a large bowl, drizzle the 2 tablespoons butter over and add about 12 shakes — or more — of hot sauce. Toss together.
Ready the rice: The garlic cloves should be resting atop the rice in the pot. Mash them against the side of the pot and fluff the garlic into the rice with a fork.
Transfer half of the rice to a shallow bowl. Add a generous pile of oysters and sprinkle the dish with parsley and green onions. Repeat with second bowl. Serve with a lemon wedge, if using, and additional hot sauce, if desired.
Makes 2 servings.
Variation (or for leftover fried oysters): For one serving, toast 2 slices of thick-cut bread. Spread mayonnaise on one slice, top with a slice of tomato sprinkled with salt and pepper. Top with fried oysters and add iceberg lettuce, pickles and hot sauce, if desired. Serve open-faced or closed.
Adapted from "Mosquito Supper Club" by Melissa M. Martin (Workman Publishing Co., 2020)