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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.
Photograph by Neil Tierney.