On Saturday we got up early and ferried ourselves over to the Olympic Peninsula. We were headed for Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, which, for those unfamiliar with the area, is a popular place to view the Olympic mountains, Washington’s version of the Swiss Alps. It’s peak after jagged, snow-covered peak, lined up at attention opposite a commanding view of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates the Peninsula from Vancouver Island, B.C.
First, we made a stop to hike Mount Zion, a quick zipper of a walk that had us up on the summit in under an hour. Definitely my idea of a good hike: killer view to effort ratio, and all just over two hours from home.
But after the hike, after the glorious views, our luck ran out. We decided to hit Port Townsend for some version of fried fish. We’d driven through Quilcene (I’ve purchased oysters from Quilcene Bay before) without stopping, and I had a hankering for fried oysters, even though I’d never tasted them. (A technicality, we decided.)
We talked about them: hot globs of oyster piled high into a grease-stained paper boat, tufts of red gingham paper sprouting out from underneath. Picnic tables. Beer.
But, alas, we were unprepared and clueless. We found the perfect place (closed), an equally appealing French bistro (closed), a pizza place (sketchy, no door, dubious sanitation standards), and a passable pub (no bartender or server available, and curiously empty for 7 p.m. on a Saturday night). We settled sadly for deli-counter take-out from a little grocery store. We missed the ferry we’d hoped to catch and crawled into bed at home hours after we’d intended.
But the oysters came with us. The next morning at the Ballard farmers’ market, we bought a can of shucked oysters from Taylor Shellfish, and fried them up in a beer batter made with our new favorite stubbie beer, Full Sails’ Session lager. Inside the warm, crunchy shell was a texture I may not have ever encountered before – the oyster meat had solidified a bit, but not entirely; the resulting flesh had the unmistakeable flavor of oysters with an almost pudding-like texture. Incredible.
A word to the wise: If you’re the kind of person that says things like “Well, I guess these are okay to eat, if we only eat them once in a while,” you probably shouldn’t make them. There is no redeeming health property to claim, and they are most certainly addictive. If you’ve never had them, they will probably cause you intense cravings at some point in the future.
Oh, and clean-up. There is nothing light about the inevitable clean-up job. Consider hiring someone, or plan to sew buttons on your partner’s shirt (or perform other equally mundane or unenjoyable tasks) immediately before heating the oil for frying, because you’ll burn a heck of a lot of credit if you ask someone else to clean up after you. (At least, that’s what I did. I sewed some of Tito’s buttons back on while he swore at the pot.)
Recipe for Beer-Battered Oysters with Jalapeno Tartar Sauce
Recipe 190 of 365
This recipe makes more batter than required for the oysters – use it to fry up zucchini slices, onion rings, green tomatoes, or whatever else jumps in. (Yes, frying battered string cheese does make mozzarella sticks. We tried.) You can skimp on oil by using a smaller pot filled with less oil, but keep in mind that a bigger pot of oil will hold its temperature better, which means less time waiting for the oil to come back up to temperature between batches. You will also need to save a container for disposing of the oil. When the oil has cooled, pour it into the container and find out if your trash person takes it, or if you have to take it to the dump yourself. If you’re in Seattle, put it on the sidewalk with a sign that says “FREE USED VEGETABLE OIL,” and it should be gone within a few days.
Equipment: You will need a high-quality sugar or frying thermometer.
TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings, at least, many more if you fry other things
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Freshly ground pepper
11 ounces cold beer (such as a lager)
20 large shucked oysters, drained and blotted dry with paper towels
Tabasco sauce, to taste
Jalapeno Tartar Sauce, for dipping (recipe follows)
Fill a large, heavy soup pot at least 3” deep with the oil and heat to 375 degrees. (If you aren’t worried about the cost of oil, fill ‘er up to about 2” from the top. Then buy us some gas.)
While the oil heats, whisk the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and a good grinding of pepper in a large bowl until blended. (This is also a good time to make the tartar sauce and line a few plates with paper towels.) When the oil is at about 325 degrees, whisk the beer into the dry ingredients and stir until the bubbles dissipate. Season with a few shakes of Tabasco, and stir again.
When the oil is hot, dip two oysters at a time into the batter to coat completely and carefully drop them into the hot oil. Repeat with additional oysters, roughly six per batch. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the oysters are golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the oysters to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, and serve hot with tartar sauce. Repeat with the remaining oysters, allowing the oil to come back up to 375 degrees between batches. (You may need to regulate the heat up and down as you fry.)
Jalapeno Tartar Sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 to 12 pickled jalapeno pepper rings (at least 4 for flavor, 12 for healthy spice)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons very finely chopped onion
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl until blended. Refrigerate until ready to serve.