Hangtown Fry is a breakfast for oyster lovers—the luscious bivalves are lightly fried, then mixed with eggs and crisp bacon. The dish dates back to the 1850s and is alleged to have been invented when a newly flush California Gold Rush miner ordered the most expensive breakfast he could get, and others followed suit. This happened in Placerville, California, which was called Hangtown at the time (for precisely the reasons you might imagine). Another apocryphal origin story says the dish was the last meal requested by a man soon to meet the noose in Hangtown. Wherever it came from, it’s still around today in various forms, and can be enjoyed at home or in places like San Francisco’s Tadich Grill.
Since there are so few ingredients, they should all be of the highest quality you can obtain, especially the bacon and oysters.
Note: When frying the oysters, make sure the fat in your skillet is very hot before adding them, or else the coating will stick to the pan. The finished dish will still taste good, but you’ll lose some crispness.
Variations: If you prefer a more coarsely textured coating, you can use all cornmeal, dry breadcrumbs, or even panko to coat the oysters. While we’ve made a fairly hard scramble (i.e. the eggs are more firm and fluffy than creamy), you can cook them however you prefer. Many versions of this dish are more like omelets, and will have you pour the eggs into the pan with the oysters as soon as they’re fried so they become embedded in the eggs; if you want to follow that method, stir the cooked and drained bacon into the eggs just before pouring them in around the oysters, or scatter it evenly on top.
- Yield: 2 servings
- Difficulty: Easy
- Total: 20 min
- Active: 20 min
- 6 to 8 fresh oysters, shucked
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into thick lardons
- 6 large eggs
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup cornmeal
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- unsalted butter, if needed
- fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
- In a small shallow bowl or pie plate, mix flour and cornmeal (or coating of your choice) with a little kosher salt and black pepper to taste, plus a pinch of cayenne if using. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, beat eggs with a little salt and pepper just until combined.
- Dip oysters one by one in egg mixture, giving each a shake and letting excess egg drip back into bowl, before dredging in coating so all sides are covered. Set aside on a small plate. Once all oysters are coated, place plate in refrigerator while you cook the bacon. This gives the coating time to better adhere and ensures the oysters are chilled, which will make frying them easier.
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or two, then add bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the bacon is golden-brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spatula or spoon to paper towels to drain, but leave the fat in the pan. If there isn’t much fat in the pan, add a tablespoon or more of butter as needed, and let melt.
- When the fat in the pan is hot and lightly bubbling (important, since if it’s not hot enough, the coating will stick to the pan and fall off), place the oysters in the skillet and fry for about 3 minutes on each side, or until coating is golden-brown and oysters are just cooked through. Remove to paper towels to drain.
- Drain off some of the fat in the skillet if you prefer, and if there are any pieces of breading left in the pan, scrape them up and discard them. Turn the heat down to medium-low and pour in the eggs. Scramble or make into an omelet, as you prefer. When the eggs are just set, add the bacon and oysters back to the pan and allow to warm up for a minute. Very gently fold them into the scrambled eggs, or if making an omelet, fold it over the bacon and oysters. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley if desired.
Photograph by Neil Tierney.