People often ask me what my favorite foods are, since I seem to be all over the board when it comes to styles and cuisines. It’s a hard question to answer, and the list changes on an almost daily basis (I think that’s a good thing).
When it comes to breakfast, I love a good congee, a steaming bowl of pho, even a really well done eggs benedict…but my first love will always be Hangtown Fry.
Farm-fresh scrambled eggs, fresh Willapa extra-small oysters sauteed in butter with garlic and shallots, smokey bacon right out of the Traeger… oh, baby!
If I see this on the menu, I close it up and order…with a side of rye toast, please…
In 1849, a prospector rushed into the saloon of the El Dorado Hotel announcing that right there in town, along the banks of Hangtown Creek, he had struck it rich. Untying his leather poke and spilling its shining contents of gold dust and nuggets. Turning to the bartender he loudly demanded, “I want you to cook me up the finest and most expensive meal in the house.”
The Bartender called to the cook who said, “The most expensive things on the menu are eggs, bacon and oysters. Take your choice. I can cook you anything you want, but it will cost you more than just a pinch of that gold dust you have there.”
“Scramble me up a whole mess of eggs and oysters,” the prospector said, “throw in some bacon, and serve ’em up. I’m starving!” The cook did just that, and thus the Hangtown Fry was invented.
It consists of fried breaded oysters, eggs, and fried bacon, cooked together like an omelet. In the gold-mining camps of the late 1800s, it became a one-skillet meal for hungry miners who struck it rich and had plenty of gold to spend. Live oysters would be brought to the gold fields in barrels of seawater from as far away as Shoalwater Bay on the Washington Coast.
Such a meal cost approximately six bucks. As a dollar had the equivalent buying power of around thirty dollars today, this was a hundred-and-eighty dollar breakfast. The recipe swept the entire Northwest Territory, from California to Seattle, in the mid-1800s.
A few drinks and a Hangtown Fry were considered a gentleman’s evening.
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An an honest-to-goodness “traditional” recipe would have the eggs, fried oysters, and bacon all scrambled together. While I prefer my Hangtown fry “deconstructed” as in this recipe, and with sauteed oysters, with are healthier, and whose flavors don’t get muddled with breading and frying oil.
The rest of the ingredients, however, are those shared generously with me by a 4th-generation oyster-man, in Oysterville, WA.
He told me that it went back at least as far as his great-great-grandmother, who ran the kitchen in one of the first hotels on Shoalwater Bay. (Pretty freakin’ cool, huh?)
Serves One (okay, maybe two or three if you’re not a hungry gold miner…)
8 extra-small to small Pacific oysters
4 Tbsp. butter
4 eggs, scrambled in butter, salt, & pepper.
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 slices crisp cooked bacon, diced (Center cut, peppered bacon is very nice!)
2 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped (opt)
Scramble eggs to your liking, and set aside, keeping warm.
Shuck oysters (saving the liquor)rinse to remove any sand, and drain well. If using bottled oysters, you can skip the rinse.
Saute the garlic and shallots in melted butter over medium-low heat, until softened. Add the oysters and liquor, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and cook until just firm. Remove the oysters from the pan (leave the juice) and set aside, keeping warm.
Bring the heat under the pan up to medium high, add cream and vinegar, and reduce to thicken into a pan sauce. Add the oysters back in, toss to coat evenly, and remove from heat.
Place your scrambled eggs on a plate, or in a bowl, top with bacon, then oysters, then a couple of Tbsp. of pan sauce. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro (optional), and serve.
I like mine with dill rye toast, or toasted pretzel rolls (pictured).
Serve when eggs are set. Top with crisp cooked bacon.
Makes 2-4 servings.
This Hangtown Fry recipe is taken from THE SHOALWATER COOKBOOK: Incredible edibles from the novels Just Past Oysterville and Shoalwater Voices, by Perry P. Perkins
“One cool June morning, a Saturday, Jack rose at first light. After scrambling up some eggs and oysters, a dish known to the locals as Hangtown Fry, he bustled around the house, preparing for their weekly visit to the bookstore.
Dottie had assured him the latest John Grisham legal thriller would be in that week, and Jack was excited to get the book in his hands.”