Dining In

Frying Oysters: The Kiss Method

Keep It Simple, Sweetie

By Nancy Finch, Food Columnist 

It was a big week for oysters and me.           

First I ordered a favorite Caesar salad at a hotel for lunch. The salad is topped with crispy fried oysters. Delicious! Then I went to a holiday party at a fancy club. They served a favorite hors d’oeuvre, a crispy fried oyster atop a Ritz cracker and held on by tartar sauce spread on the cracker. They are a regular on party menus there and are scrumptious!

These oyster treats inspired my getting a quart of oysters to fry for guests. Big mistake.

Now, mind you, I’ve been frying oysters for years so it looks like I should have the hang of it and maybe I thought I did. But those two chef-turned-out oysters let me know that I had a lot to learn about oyster cookery.

My results: the batter mostly fell off the oysters, some were way too brown (all right, slightly burned). Grease was everywhere and my

kitchen counter was a disaster of flour, bread crumbs and eggs. My fingers had more batter on them than the oysters did.

My fried oysters tasted nothing like the chef versions.

On top of all these messes, this oyster process took so long that we nearly missed the symphony concert my guests were to go to with us — after dinner. We left the oyster war zone and went tearing off, but made the symphony, I suspect, smelling loudly of burned grease and oysters.

So, I called Anthony Frank, executive chef at Virginia Crossings Resort just outside Richmond. I asked if he would give me an oyster lesson.

Sure, he said. So off I went for my oyster class in Anthony’s kitchen.

He’d bought oysters in the shell for the class — beautiful big oysters — that he shelled himself, just before cooking.

So, I asked, “What all do you put on your oysters, Anthony?”

“Flour,” he answered.

“And what else?”

“Oh, a little salt and pepper.”

“What else?”

“That’s it,” he said.

“No, that couldn’t be,” I demurred.

But then, Anthony took those plump, fresh oysters and demonstrated. I had been drying oysters on a paper towel from directions in some cookbook.

”No, no,” Anthony said.  “You don’t want the oyster to lose its moisture. Then the flour won’t stick on.”

Here is what the chef did.

He had a deep container of plain flour (a small bowl will do). He added salt to the flour. Then he, by hand, dusted each oyster with flour. “Some people use Old Bay seasoning, but I think that masks the oyster flavor,” he said.

After dusting, he said, “Don’t let the oysters sit too long. Get them in the skillet quickly.”

Well, not only was my system of flouring the oyster, dipping in egg wash and then in bread or cracker crumbs part of my problem, but the amount of oil I used as well.

The oil should come halfway up the side of the oyster, he said. I, thinking it was good to use as little oil as possible since it is a rarity for us to fry anything, simply wasn’t using enough oil. The chef used extra-virgin olive oil and grape seed oil, combined, in a skillet, that did come well up around the oyster. (But any oil will do, he says.) Then to test the temperature and make sure it was hot enough, he tossed a few drops of water into the oil. When the oil popped and crackled when the water hit it, he knew it was hot enough.

He cooked the oysters no more than one minute on each side and then drained them on paper towels.

They were lightly brown, handsome-looking (unlike mine) and tasted delicious.

I was making something very easy quite complicated and with very disappointing results.

Now, you know a chef has to do things a bit differently. So, half the oysters Anthony dusted in arboria, a rice flour. That might be tricky to find, so he recommends buying risotto and grinding it in a coffee grinder to make the flour. The arboria-dusted oysters had a crispier texture, but didn’t brown as attractively as did the plain flour-coated oysters.

Try Anthony’s method to bring simplicity and, no doubt, improvement to your oyster cookery.

They ARE delightful atop a Caesar salad and the oyster hors d’oeuvre will be a hit at your party — a Ritz cracker with a swab of tartar sauce topped with a golden, lightly fried oyster. Yum.



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