Pan-Fried Oysters

From Seven Stars of Winter by Jessica Prentice


Oysters are best freshly fried, so this easy-to-prepare recipe is perfect for an informal gathering where you can cook, serve, and eat all at once. While it’s often recommended to coat all the oysters in the batter before heating the fat and starting to fry, I take the opposite approach, and I’m likely get the fat heating before I have coated even a single oyster. My process is to dip each oyster in the buttermilk, followed by the flour, and then it goes straight into the hot fat. This is not relaxing, but I find it invigorating and challenging. It works best to use a very small pan and do a few at a time. Just assess your cooking personality and figure out which approach you want to take.

oystersCK16 ounces shucked medium-size oysters
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour (white or sprouted spelt)
1½ teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
⅓ to ½ cup lard or bacon drippings
Fresh lemon wedges for serving
Homemade mayonnaise for serving

Lay out the oysters on a kitchen towel, spread another towel over and press gently to absorb excess moisture. Line a plate with paper towels or a brown paper grocery bag for draining. Put the buttermilk or yogurt in a shallow bowl. In another bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, and optional cayenne.

Dip each oyster in the buttermilk or yogurt, shake it off, then dip it in the flour mixture.  Set aside on a wire rack or plate until ready to fry. (Unless you are a daredevil like me and prefer to try to prepare them as you go.)

In a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan, heat enough lard or bacon drippings over medium-high heat to give you a layer of melted fat in the pan about ¼-inch deep. Let it heat until it starts to shimmer, then try dipping the edge of an oyster into the hot fat to make sure it sizzles before adding several oysters to the pan. Do not crowd the pan, but add as many oysters as can easily fit with room in between them. You will work in batches to cook them all.

Fry the oysters until golden brown on the bottom, about 1 minute, then turn them over with a slotted spoon and fry on the other side until golden on that side. Monitor the heat, turning it down if it starts to smoke or the oysters get too dark too fast, or turning it up if they seem to be cooking too slowly.

Transfer cooked oysters to the paper towels or paper bags to drain. Repeat with all the oysters, adding more fat as necessary in between batches to keep the level about ¼ inch deep.

Serve with lemon wedges and mayonnaise and eat at once.