Oyster folk in Galveston Bay have had a rough go of it over the last ten years but this year may have been the worst. The bad luck started in 2008 when Hurricane Ike suffocated oyster reefs with the churning muck of the bay. Next came a drought lasting six years, allowing oyster parasites run amok, killing our precious critters before they reach maturity.
Then, all of a sudden, rain. Rain is good for oysters in the long run (Oysters need a brackish mix of fresh and salty water) but it can be bad in the short run. Too much fresh water can bring red tide, and while there is debate as to whether the red tide hit Galveston Bay there is no debate that Texas Parks and Wildlife closed all but one reef for the first two and a half months of oyster season. Oyster companies missed the holiday rush that they’d grown accustomed to. Add to all this mess a never-ending lawsuit between the three biggest oyster companies in Texas and you’ve got nothing but grief for Texas oystermen.
The next few seasons are going to be some of the best we’ll see. A good hard rain can produce three years worth of bumper crops. That being said, the end of the season means many Texans flip the switch from raw to cooked oysters, while others prefer to wait for next November 1st. I say we still have a nice little window for cooked oysters before the long hot summer begins in earnest.
This recipe is loosely based on a banh mi sandwich, which I first tried somewhere close to McKinney Street in downtown Houston. Vietnamese food is now as much a part of me as French cuisine is them. I’ll never give it up.
For the Fried Oysters:
- 2 dozen medium to large oysters with their shells, plus a few for practice
- 6 eggs
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup flour
- 3 cups panko bread crumbs
- 4 cups peanut oil
For the Vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/8 cup lime juice
- 1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
- 2 thin slices of jalapeno
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
For the Mayonnaise:
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp Srirracha
For the Garnish:
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1/2 carrot
- 1 tbsp each, mint, cilantro, basil
- 1 box rock salt
The mayonnaise and the vinaigrette can be made the day before. Simply mix the ingredients together. If you make the vinaigrette ahead of time, the jalapeno will intensify over night. This could be a good thing depending on your tolerance for spice.
To prepare the garnish, Use a cheese grater to get nice thin strips of carrot and cucumber. It is not necessary to peel the carrot but you may want to give it a good scrub. When grating the cucumber, don’t peel it. Just grate the outside firm part and leave the fleshy, seedy part for a snack. Coarsely chop the herbs and mix by hand.
Heat the oil on medium heat or in a deep fryer. You want to get the temperature to about 350 degrees. Prepare three breading containers for the battering process.Spread the flour across a plate and mound the panko on another. Crack all of the eggs into a bowl with the water and whisk until well blended.
Start with four to five oysters at a time. Begin by removing any excess liquid from the oyster and then tossing them lightly in the flour. Gently dust off any access flour then dunk them in your egg batter. Give them another gentle tap removing any access egg then roll them in the panko. Be gentle. Place one of the oysters in the oil to ensure that the oil is the correct temperature. The oyster should immediately begin sizzling. If everything is a go, place the rest of the oysters in the oil and fry them until golden-brown, then drain them on paper towels or a drain board.
To plate: Spread the rock salt across a tray or table and place the empty oyster shells in the salt so they don’t wobble. Add a teaspoon (or as much as each shell will hold) of vinaigrette into each shell. Next add a fried oyster to each shell. Top with a dab of Srirracha mayonnaise and a tiny bit of garnish. Serve immediately.