I don’t often offer up this information freely but today I will. Because I trust you. And because you and I both know that we’ve all got a little weird hanging out in those dark corners of our kid closets, right? So here goes…
I used to collect alligator heads.
The kind with the lacquered skin and the black glass eyes and the wave-like lines of ivory-colored teeth. They sat in a small cluster on my dresser, next to books and toys and other childhood miscellany, and I loved them with the entirety of my tiny child heart. And then, as is often the case with our most beloved childhood things, I forgot about them, Toy Story-style. I started listening to Hanson and reading Harry Potter. I bought fruit-scented sprays from Bath and Body Works and sticks of silver eyeliner that I swore made my brown eyes pop. I talked for hours on our shared family landline to a boy I’d someday marry.
Unlike Woody, my gator heads never came to life for a fancy rebound or a second chance. But when I spotted a familiar looking head, just a bit larger than my childhood loves, in a restaurant entryway a few months ago, it all came flooding back. I was in Dulac, the small shrimping town in Southeastern Louisiana that sits on Bayou Plat, at a restaurant called Schmoopy’s. Schmoopy’s, my grandmother swore to me, serves some of the best oysters in Louisiana. Never mind the cartoonish name or the barebones tables or the lack of a website for me to link to here. Theirs are some of the most perfectly fried oysters ever, she wrote me in an email.
And so, when we stopped in during our pass through Dulac on the way to Avery Island, I did what you do in Louisiana at lunchtime. I ordered the fried seafood platter, complete with half a dozen oysters, with a side salad. I don’t need to write much about the Schmoopy’s salad here. Salads aren’t, traditionally, really a big thing in Southeastern Louisiana and this one, best described as simple, included the lengthy list of the following ingredients: shaved iceberg lettuce tossed in, wait for it, vegetable oil. Yep.
But the seafood. The crabs, the shrimp, the oysters. Briny bivalve flesh dipped in spiced cornmeal, bathed in hot oil, served with nothing more than a plastic takeout container of ketchup hit with a few licks of hot sauce. Crunchy, crumbly outsides and creamy like butter on the insides. My grandmother was right, I thought to myself while dipping a an oyster nugget in the ketchup. These people know their fried oysters. So today, in honor of Schmoopy’s and alligator heads and forgotten childhood loves all over, we’re frying oysters, Louisiana-style, and pairing them with fresh vegetable-laden bounty, not-so-Louisiana-style.
I’ve seen oysters battered and fried before, but I prefer to just dip them while still wet with a little bit of their liquor straight into a spiced cornmeal mixture. I add a bit of all-purpose flour to my cornmeal batter to soften it out, but for the most part, it’s gritty from the meal granules. The most important thing, I think, to frying is to get the oil temperature right, not too hot or they’ll become burnt and rubbery, not too cool or they’ll become a greasy soggy mess. See? There’s a lot that goes into a good fried oyster. I pair mine here with buttery grilled brioche toast and a crunchy mid-summer fennel, fava bean, and first-tomatoes-of-the year from my garden salad, all sitting on a bed of spicy, Tabasco-swirled mayonnaise.
Now I know I’m not the only one around here with a weird childhood collection. What’s yours? Come on, spill…
This post was sponsored by Tabasco but all thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that I believe in and that keep C+M thriving.
- Canola oil, enough to fill about 1.5 inches in your dutch oven or deep fryer
- 1 pint of small-sized raw oysters (or larger sized cut into bite sized pieces)
- ¾ cup of cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, or ½ teaspoon of regular sea or table salt
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 1 pound of fava beans, shelled
- 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½-bulb of fennel, cored and sliced thinly, fronds reserved
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 6 slices of brioche bread, ½-inch thick,
- ½ cup of mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon of Tabasco original red hot sauce
- Fennel fronds, for garnish
- Add oil to dutch oven (or deep fryer) and heat over medium high heat, until oil reaches approximately 350 degrees F. Combine the cornmeal, flour, cayenne, salt, black pepper, and garlic powder in a small bowl.
- Work in batches to toss the oysters with the flour mixture and then fry until golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider and let drain on paper towels.
- Combine ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add toast slices, working in batches, and cook until golden, adding more butter as necessary.
- Top each slice of toast with a smear of Tabasco-mayonnaise, the fennel salad, and 2-3 fried oysters.