May 17, 2007
Rescuing a Dish Thrown Overboard

When McCormick & Schmick's opens a restaurant in a new locale, it likes to dress up the setting with local memorabilia. Thus, the first Sacramento branch of the seafood chain includes some great old local photos, posters, maps and the like.

On the menu, however, it's missing the boat. There's no Hangtown Fry, perhaps the most endearing and enduring dish to come out of the area. Yes, it's more closely identified with Placerville than Sacramento, but the provisions that go into a Hangtown Fry most likely passed through Sacramento on their way to the gold fields, and for decades restaurants here featured the dish on their menus.

McCormick & Schmick's oversight is surprising in two respects. For one, oysters not only are a principal ingredient of the Hangtown Fry, they're a key attraction on the McCormick & Schmick's menu, with a half-dozen fresh, raw strains listed daily, and fried oysters available periodically. Secondly, when McCormick & Schmick's took over and reopened the venerable Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley eight years ago it returned to the menu the Hangtown Fry.

Granted, it's gone from the Spenger's menu today, probably for the same reason it isn't at the Sacramento branch: Corporate officials likely see it as too dated for today's tastes. Though the history of the Hangtown Fry is debatable in some respects, the consensus pretty much is that it first was made during the Gold Rush at Placerville, then known as Hangtown. The dish was a simple and rustic scramble of eggs, bacon and oysters, and that's how it's been handed down through the decades.

The Hangtown Fry could be on the verge of a revival, however, if Martha Stewart remains an astute gauge of American tastes. In the new June issue of her magazine Martha Stewart Living she includes a full-page photo of a skillet-fried Hangtown Fry, looking as contemporary and inviting as any other dish in the issue. "This extravagant omelet melds the opulence of oysters with the familiar richness of bacon," coos the copy with the photo.

Once in awhile, a local restaurant will add the Hangtown Fry to its menu, but none has it right now that I know of, so we'll have to make our own until it becomes a hit elsewhere and Sacramento restaurants pick up on its popularity. Here's Martha Stewart's recipe:

Hangtown Fry
Serves 2
6 slices thick-cut bacon
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
12 shucked fresh oysters
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat broiler with rack 8 inches from heat source. Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Keep warm.
2. Whisk together 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon cream, 1/2 teaspoon parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper.
3. Combine flour and a pinch of salt and pepper. Dredge oysters in flour mixture, shake off excess, and transfer to a plate.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in an 8-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until foamy. Add half the oysters, and cook, flipping once, until golden, about 3 minutes total.
5. Reduce heat to medium, and pour egg mixture over oysters in skillet. Cook until bottom is set, about 1 minute. Place skillet under broiler, and broil until top and center are just set, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Slide omelet onto a plate, and top with half the bacon. Serve immediately. Wipe out skillet, and repeat to make another omelet.

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