Wine With . . . Fried Oysters
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
We were somewhat surprised that no typically lean, grassy Sauvignon Blanc made it into our final top-five wines with this dish. After all, when we paired oysters on the half shell in our column just after Christmas in 2006, three of the five wines we selected were ultra dry Sauvignon Blancs, with classic grapefruit and kiwi flavors, and underlying minerality. This time the two of us, along with our friends Lisa and Charles, eschewed wines that had overt herbaceous qualities and significant acidity. Instead, when we compared our individual results at the end of the tasting, we discovered that the wines we all had chosen were characterized by a measure of sweetness and reasonable weightiness on the palate. (Even the sparkling wine of choice was fruity rather than ultra brut). What a difference it makes to take oysters out of their shells and drop them into sizzling butter!
Had we deep-fried the bivalves, the results surely would have been different-our guess is that even bigger, showier whites would have dominated in that case-but we chose to dredge them lightly in cayenne-accented flour and cornmeal, and sauté them in butter. The result was meltingly sweet and tender oysters full of ocean flavor--not greasy and not encased in thick, fried crust.
We enjoyed these oysters as a main course, along with salad and plenty of good French bread. We've made this a couple of times, using fresh oysters packed in jars or cans. We served them with a homemade aioli, but tartar or cocktail sauces are other options.
serves 4 as a main course
3 pints oysters
about 1 cup buttermilk
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Drain the oysters and place them in a bowl. Pour in enough buttermilk to just cover them; let sit for 15 minutes or up to an hour. Drain the oysters. Meanwhile, on a plate or other flat surface, thoroughly combine the flour, cornmeal and seasoning. Dredge the oysters in the mixture; then spread them out on baking sheets lined with paper towels.
Add the butter and oil to a heavy skillet such as a cast-iron frying pan. When very hot, add the oysters and brown them for a minute or two on each side, being careful not to overcook. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
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