Fried Oysters, Fried Pancetta, and Grits

Oysters take me back to summer in Truro. While I’ll take a dozen raw ones over shaved ice any day, come summer we eat them Cape-style, i.e. fried. Fried oysters are the king of fried seafood: good oysters taste supremely of the sea, and so, rather than an excuse to eat fried stuff, a fried oyster is actually a fresh, oceany bite. Which happens to be fried.

There are two factors at play when considering the fried oyster: coating method, and plate construction. The former is a matter of taste. For a pure burst of oyster goodness, dust simply with flour and fry. From there, you move up the crust level, with increasingly thick layers of encasing crunch. Dip them in buttermilk, then flour, or your standard flour-egg-flour process. We went with a double dip: flour-buttermilk-flour then a return to the buttermilk and flour and into the oil.

Plate construction is a fancy way of saying accompaniments. I imagine that in the beginning, in seaside towns such as Truro, people ate their fried seafood Mediterranean-style: dropped in oil and devoured tableside by the water. Over time the dish took a distinctly American turn, and cooks created the “basket” or “dinner”. That is to say, an enormous salad of fried food served in a basket or on a  frisbee-sized plate. And so, in Truro, my fried oysters arrive aside a high pile of French fries (and limp salad).

French fries-I eat them all, of course-are a poor foil for fried oysters; they dull the palate and dilute the sharp oyster flavor. It’s also an overdose of fried food. Better to munch on them with a simple tartar sauce or, as we do here, a plate of grits. And a few discs of fried pancetta because, well, fried pork never hurt anyone. At risk of violating seaside food history, French fries don’t necessarily improve a dish. Fried oysters, however, are always delicious and deserve a proper environment.
Fried Oysters, Fried Pancetta, and Grits

Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 cup grits
2 cups milk
16 oysters, shucked
12 slices pancetta
3 cups flour
2 cups buttermilk
oil for frying
salt and pepper

  1. Bring grits and milk to boil in a small pan, simmer till done, stirring, about ½ hour (add milk or water as needed). Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm
  2. Set at least 3 inches of oil in a medium pot over medium high heat. Set up two bowls, one with flour the other buttermilk. When the oil hits 325, start dredging oysters: flour then buttermilk, back in flour. Repeat, shaking off excess flour. Fry until golden, about 1 minute. Season with salt. Drain on a paper towel.
  3. When done, fry the pancetta a few slices at a time for about 30 seconds. Divide grits, oysters, and pancetta among 4 plates and serve.

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