If you live in New Orleans, you can easily pick up a pint of freshly shucked oysters at most grocery stores, especially in late fall and throughout winter as folks prepare to make oyster dishes that are traditional there for the holiday table.

Gulf of Mexico oysters usually are fat and salty. If they are fresh, we eat them straight from the shell, but they also are great for frying and then tucking into a sandwich or eating on a platter with fresh lemon juice or a touch of tartar sauce.

Louisiana’s bigger oysters make better fryers because they are inexpensive and because their size and plumpness allows you to more easily avoid the kiss of death: Over-frying.

Crisp on the outside and custardy on the inside is the goal for fried oysters, and in her cookbook “Mosquito Supper Club,” restaurateur Melissa M. Martin describes how you should use your senses rather than a timer when deciding if the bivalves are done. She writes: “The oysters will make a lot of noise at first and then calm down — keep your face and appendages away from the pot as the oysters talk. Listen for the moment when they quiet down; that’s when they are done.”

Martin, who owns the Mosquito Supper Club restaurant in New Orleans, grew up in a family of South Louisiana fishermen, so she relishes eating oysters raw and describes the experience as “like jumping into the ocean, tasting the salt water on your lips, the seaweed, the algae, the brackish marsh or the frigid Nova Scotia coast.”

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The issue for many home cooks, however, can be getting your hands on freshly shucked oysters. If you don’t live adjacent to oyster-rich waters, you can order the bivalves online or visit a seafood market and ask if they will shuck them for you.

Even if you do have access to fresh oysters, they vary dramatically in size, flavor and cost depending on where they are harvested. If your oysters are smallish, Martin’s preferred way of frying them works well. She lightly dusts them in cornstarch and cornmeal — no dairy, no egg — and then quickly fries them in very hot oil until they are just golden and, as she says, quiet.

Martin suggests tossing the hot-from-the-fryer oysters in a bit of melted butter and generous shakes of hot sauce and serving them over rice with a sprinkling of parsley and sliced scallion. I had never eaten them this way, but was eager to try it. Now, this is a new favorite of mine.

I tweaked her serving suggestion a bit by making a garlic-flavored rice as the base. I tossed a few cloves into the rice as it simmered and steamed in water. Then, I crushed the softened garlic and tossed it with the freshly cooked rice.

The garlic-scented rice with the spicy, buttery oysters were like a taste of home — even if it turned out the oysters I bought had been harvested from Long Island’s Great South Bay.


Ingredients

  • FOR THE RICE
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • FOR THE OYSTERS
  • Peanut oil or another neutral oil, for frying
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) fine-ground cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 pint shucked oysters, well-drained
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Hot sauce, to taste, plus more for serving
  • FOR SERVING
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Scant 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • Lemon, optional

Step 1

In a medium saucepan over high heat, melt the butter, add the rice and toss to coat. Add the water, whole garlic cloves and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.


Step 2

While the rice is cooking, in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, add 3 inches of oil and heat to 375 degrees. Use an instant-read thermometer or test the oil by dropping a bit of cornmeal into it. If it sizzles, the oil is ready.

Set a paper-lined tray next to the stove.


Step 3

In a small bowl, combine the cornmeal, cornstarch, salt, black pepper and cayenne.

Dredge the oysters in the cornmeal mixture and carefully add them to the hot oil. Use caution: Oysters have a lot of water in them, so they will pop and sputter in the hot oil. If they do not, the oil is not hot enough.


Step 4

Look for the oysters to turn a light golden color and “quiet down.” As soon as an oyster has stopped sputtering, lift it out using a spider, slotted spoon or tongs. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of the oyster, so it is better to use your eyes and ears. It should take 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overcook. Do not crowd the oysters in the pot. Cook in batches, if necessary.


Step 5

Place the fried oysters on the paper-lined tray to drain. Then, transfer the drained, fried oysters to a large bowl, drizzle the 2 tablespoons butter over and add about 12 shakes — or more — of hot sauce. Toss together.


Step 6

Ready the rice: The garlic cloves should be resting atop the rice in the pot. Mash them against the side of the pot and fluff the garlic into the rice with a fork.

Transfer half of the rice to a shallow bowl. Add a generous pile of oysters and sprinkle the dish with parsley and green onions. Repeat with the second bowl. Serve with a lemon wedge, if using, and additional hot sauce, if desired.

VARIATION (or for leftover fried oysters): For one serving, toast 2 slices of thick-cut bread. Spread mayonnaise on one slice, top with a slice of tomato sprinkled with salt and pepper. Top with fried oysters and add iceberg lettuce, pickles and hot sauce, if desired. Serve open-faced or closed.


Nutrition Information

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.


Adapted from “Mosquito Supper Club” by Melissa M. Martin (Workman Publishing Co., 2020)

Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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