OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Oysters from the beds of Puget Sound have been an exalted Northwest delicacy since the 1850s, when San Francisco gourmets paid $20 a plate to eat them. The best-known ones are Olympic oysters, critters too small to be enjoyed on the half-shell, customarily served already shucked in a big glass bowl so that you can gobble up dozens at a time.
One of the most famous ways to eat "Olys" is in an omelet called a Hangtown fry. Served up and down the West Coast, and even in some fancier kitchens in other parts of the country, a Hangtown fry enfolds a couple of handfuls of oysters that have been quickly fried to crusty succulence, and is usually garnished with a few strips of crisp bacon.
No one knows for sure how Hangtown fry got its name. One speculation is that it was invented during the Gold Rush when a newly rich miner strode into a saloon and demanded the fanciest dish in the house. Eggs were expensive and rare, so the cook devised an omelet loaded with the '49ers' favorite sweetmeat, oysters. This incident allegedly happened in a town called Placerville, which in Gold Rush days was known as Hangtown for all the criminals who got strung up there.
In 1925, after Hangtown fry had gotten popular in swank dining rooms and oceanside cafes throughout the Northwest, a few oyster fishermen in Olympia opened a small seafood bar in the culling house of the Olympia Oyster Co. They served little more than oyster cocktails and pan-fried oysters, and the place became known by the name that many today still call it, the Oyster Bar. Officially, it is the Olympia Oyster House.
Makes 1 serving.
oil for deep-frying
3 slices bacon
2 dozen tiny Olympia oysters or 6 to 10 larger oysters cut into pieces the size of a thumbnail
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter
3 eggs, beaten
Heat oil in deep skillet or deep fryer to 350 degrees. In a separate pan, begin cooking bacon as you prepare oysters. When bacon is done as desired, remove from pan and drain on paper towels.
Roll whole small oysters or bits of larger oysters in flour. Mix egg and milk. Dip floured oysters piece by piece in egg-and-milk mixture, then roll in bread crumbs. Deep-fry in hot oil 1 minute, or until crisp and golden brown.
Melt butter in omelet pan. Pour in eggs. Stir slightly, and when eggs begin to set, but are still moist, add oysters. When set, fold omelet in half. Slip out of pan onto warm plate. Serve topped with bacon.
Olympia Oyster House, 320 W. Fourth Ave., Olympia, Wash. 98501; (206) 943-8020.