There’s a special place in hell for whoever invented deep frying.
Not that I can’t see its utility. Here’s a cooking technique that renders just about anything not only edible but delicious, which is a real boon in time of scarcity. If you’re stranded on a dessert island with nothing to eat but tubers and shoe leather, all you have to do is fire up the deep fryer and you’re good to go. It’s the only thing on this earth that will turn tree bark into dinner.
It’s also the thing on this earth that will make tree bark bad for you. The only problem with the deep fryer is that the things that come out of it are A) absolutely irresistible and B) woefully unhealthful. That’s a dangerous combination.
It’s so dangerous that, for the first 47 years of my life, I refused to deep fry anything at all. Which is not to say that I refused to eat anything deep-fried. I’m particularly fond of fried shrimp, and I’ve downed my share of French fries – it’s just that I thought it was safer to keep that kind of thing out of the house.
But then we met Les Hemmila. Les runs Barnstable Seafarms, and grows beautiful oysters on grants in Barnstable Harbor and West Bay, off Osterville. If you farm oysters, you aim to grow them until they’re three inches long, which is the minimum legal size and also the size people want in a raw oyster. Inevitably, though, some get away. They get sloshed out of their trays and go rogue, and if they escape harvest for a season or two, they turn into big, hairy monsters that nobody wants.
Except me. Kevin sometimes helps Les out on the grant, and I occasionally come along. We were out there a couple days ago, and I marveled at the size of some of Les’s escapees.
“What do you do with these?” I asked him.
“Nothing,” he said. “If you want ‘em, you’re welcome to ‘em.”
I wanted ‘em. I collected a dozen, and took ‘em home.
There are several things you can do with oversized oysters. There’s nothing to stop you from eating them raw, of course, but they’re better suited for other applications. One of which is deep frying.
It was a just a couple months back that we deep fried some oysters with our friends Doug and Dianne Langelend – inveterate eaters, accomplished cooks, and publishers of Edible Cape Cod. We shucked the oysters and breaded them (flour, then egg, then panko), and Doug set up an outdoor propane burner with an enameled cast-iron Le Creuset pot full of vegetable oil.
When Kevin saw the set-up, his eyes lit up. We have an outdoor propane burner! We have an enameled cast-iron pot! (Ours is a mere Lodge, not a Le Creuset, but the principle’s the same.) All we need is vegetable oil, and deep frying is within our grasp.
“I know what you’re thinking,” I said to my husband, and I almost added something along the lines of “and you can forget about it,” but I stopped to consider.
Kevin and I each have three marital vetoes. That is, we can each put our foot down and put the kibosh on something the other wants to do a total of three times over the course of our married life. I have exercised one, and Kevin has resigned himself to motorcyclelessness. Kevin has exercised none. This could be because he’s more easy-going and live-and-let-live than I am, or it could be because I don’t ever want to do anything that has to be vetoed.
Regardless, I have two vetoes left. As I stood on the Langelands’ patio, watching the wheels turn in my husband’s head, I decided I wasn’t going to waste one on deep frying.
And so, yesterday, I broke my 47-year streak and deep fried at home.
Kevin set up the burner, and put about a half-gallon of canola oil in our cast-iron pot. We shucked the oysters (no mean feat) and drained them. And then we called my parents.
My parents love to eat, but they are also very careful about what they eat. The meals they have at home are invariably heavy on vegetables, legumes, and whole grains and light on meat and fat. They’re also very good – my mother is an excellent cook.
Although I tend to make reasonably healthful meals most of the time, it’s usually when we do something a little out of the ordinary that we invite my parents over. And “out of the ordinary” generally translates to “bad for you.”
I called my mother. “Hey, Mom, it’s me. We’re having crack for dinner. Wanna come over?”
“Sure! We’ll bring the wine.”
They arrived, with wine, and Kevin fired up the propane burner. We breaded the oysters (flour, egg, panko), and I made an aioli out of mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice, and Tabasco.
When the oil was hot, we dropped in the first four oysters. They cooked in about fifteen seconds, and Kevin scooped them out and drained them on paper towels.
We each took one, and dipped it in the aioli.
There is nothing like a fried oyster. The outside is crispy and crunchy, the inside soft and creamy. It has the faintest brininess. It’s like deep-fried ocean.
There is no going back. We have crossed our deep-fried Rubicon, and are now thinking about chicken, shrimp, and even Snickers bars. Kevin pointed to the potato patch, one of our few gardening endeavors that seems to be succeeding, and said to me. “You see those? Those are French fries.”
I’m eyeing the tree bark.