The state of California is not known for its cuisine. In fact, it has developed a reputation for bland and uninspiring dishes. It is a pity since the state has created some memorable recipes over the decades. One of them is the 19th century dish called Hangtown Fry. The latter is an omlette dish that originated sometime between 1849 and 1853 during the California Gold Rush. Although the dish has three origin tales, everyone does agree that the it was created in mid-19th century California. Many also agree that the original dish was an omlette made from eggs, bacon and oysters.
According to the first origin tale, the Hangtown Fry was invented in Placerville, California – then known as Hangtown – in the saloon of the El Dorado Hotel, now known as the Cary House Hotel. When a prospector rushed into the hotel’s saloon, announcing he had struck gold along the banks of Hangtown Creek; he ordered the most expensive dish that the hotel could provide. Since the most expensive food in Gold Rush California were eggs – a delicacy that had to be carefully brought to the mining town, bacon shipped from the East Coast, and oysters brought from San Francisco on icewhich were delicate and had to be carefully brought to the mining town; bacon, which was shipped from the East Coast, and oysters, which had to be brought on ice from San Francisco, over 100 miles away – the hotel’s cook created the omlette known as the Hangtown Fry.
The dish’s second origin tale centered around a condemned prisoner awaiting execution inside a Placerville jail. The authorities asked what he would like to eat for his last meal. The prisoner quickly ordered an oyster omelet, aware that the oysters would have to be brought from San Francisco, over a hundred miles away by steamship and over rough roads. He had hoped the transport of the oysters would delay his execution for a day. And according to the third tale, a man named Parker opened a saloon called Parker’s Bank Exchange in San Francisco’s financial district in 1853. Following the saloon’s opening, he invented and served Hangtown Fry to his customers. Hangtown Fry became a very popular dish in California during the 1850s. It was popularized by Tadich Grill in San Francisco, where it has apparently been on the menu for 160 years. Over the years, cooks have made variations of the dish by adding bell peppers, onions and various spices to its recipe.
Below is a recipe for Hangtown Fry from the “Saveur” website:
12 oysters, such as Bluepoint or Fanny Bay, shucked
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
¼ cup flour
½ cup bread crumbs
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Pat oysters dry, and season with salt and pepper; set aside. Put flour, 1 beaten egg, and bread crumbs in 3 separate bowls. Dip each oyster in flour, then egg, then crumbs; place on a floured plate. Heat butter in a 12″ nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oysters; fry, flipping once, until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Whisk remaining eggs in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add eggs to pan with half the bacon and scallions. Cook until eggs are just set, about 3 minutes. Smooth over top; cover, and cook until top is set, about 5 minutes. Transfer omelette to a plate, and garnish with remaining bacon and scallions.