Has anyone outside the SF bay area heard of a hangtown fry? It’s an oddly compelling yet not very intuitive dish loaded with the richness of eggs, cream, oysters, and bacon. It’s a somewhat bizarre combination, one that cries out for, in this humble cook’s opinion, a more vibrant, breakaway interpretation.
“Hangtown”: former name for Placerville, in gold country, roughly halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. Legend has it that this camp, near the mother lode, held the first recorded hanging of, presumably, rogue miners. The name quickly caught on, until some early chamber of commerce or another decided Placerville sounded better.
The dish was allegedly the request of a prosperous miner who was tired of eating beans, and demanded the chef to make him a dish of the most expensive ingredients he had; the chef looked around and found canned oysters, hard-to-come-by bacon, and eggs, which I imagine would have been plentiful – getting hens to lay isn’t THAT hard – but apparently they were indeed rare. So the chef just threw it all together and declared victory.
I had eight or so small oysters from Kevin Lunny’s operation, and they needed to be used up. I still haven’t tasted a cooked oyster I’ve liked more than a raw one, but it seemed prudent to cook them, so a hangtown fry it was. With tweaks, naturally!
I started by cooking two pieces of bacon in a cast iron pan. Removed, blotted, and roughly chopped the bacon. I then opened the oysters, let them drain a bit, dredged them in a combo of flour, freshly ground coriander seed, and black pepper, and fried them in the bacon fat.
While they cooked, I combined three eggs, several tablespoons of greek yogurt (it really is better than cream — which the original calls for — in scrambled eggs, caloric considerations aside), and plenty of chives.
I removed the cooked oysters and set them on a plate while the eggs cooked in the same pan. It seems odd to cook three separate dishes in the same pan, only to combine them at the end, but that’s exactly what happened. Cooked the egg/yogurt mixture on low heat, made some toast, and when the eggs were two-thirds done I added the oysters and bacon and folded them in. Topped with more chives, good salt, and more black pepper.
It was good. But it didn’t make a lot of sense. Eggs and bacon certainly belong together, but the texture goes weird when the bacon gets folded in with the eggs. One bite of each yields far more pleasure than the mixture. And the oysters? If I had billions of oysters in my backyard, I might say what the hell, throw them in some eggs, but … again, weird texture with the eggs, and the triple-rich hit of oyster, bacon, egg is more confusing than dopamine-inducing/pleasure-giving.
I’m thinking that the next time I try this, I’m going all separate. Large oysters with a proper spice or herb or citrus treatment, with some kind of crust, fried in ghee, plated next to the egg-herb combo, plated next to the bacon. The troika has an odd unity, but it needs some work!