What is a Hangtown Fry?
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Posted on 12 Apr 2012 15:15

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The Hangtown Fry, as legend has it, came out of Hangtown, California in 1849. Of course it must have been 1849 since the guy who got the ball rolling on the dish was reportedly a gold miner, who had just struck it rich. Eager to celebrate his new-found wealth with appropriate fare, he went into the diner of the El Dorado Hotel and ordered "the finest and most expensive meal in the house." The most expensive things available were eggs, oysters, and bacon. The cook put them together in a dish and the Hangtown Fry was born. It is still available all along California's Gold Rush Country.1

The dish consists of fried breaded oysters, bacon, and eggs cooked together like an omelete, fritatta style (flat omelette). Although some dispute the above story and say that it was the last request of a man about to be hanged, it is generally agreed that it got its start in Hangtown, formerly called Dry Diggings or Old Dry Diggings is now called Placerville, since the inhabitants didn't think the name was very endearing, especially since it was quite literal and born of a three-man hanging which happened there. It is the county seat of El Dorado. Gold was discovered in Coloma, California, nearby, in 1848.3

That is certainly the most credible story, since it bears the name of an actual town, but some controversy still exists. The Tadich grill in San Francisco claims to have had it on the Menu since the restaurant first opened during the gold rush, and says that miners who struck it rich would order it because they "could afford one of the most expensive meals in San Francisco."

Hangtown.JPG

Hangtown (Placerville) during the Gold Rush, circa 1850

Hangtown.JPG

Hangtown (Placerville) during the Gold Rush, circa 1850

This story is somewhat credible in that it did become a tradition among successful miners to order a Hangtown Fry, as a mark of prosperity.2 A meal with oysters would have cost around $6.00, which was a fortune in those days.

However, this does little to clear up the origin of the dish and the Tadich seems to be implying that they originated it. It is likely that this restaurant was just one of many that served this in the area after the dish originated in Hangtown. It is still the official dish of both Placerville and El Dorado County.3

Hangtown Fry Recipe

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Ingredients

1 egg
1 tbs milk
1/4 cup cup cracker and bread crumb mixture or
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
salt and ground black pepper
3 tbs butter or oil
3 shucked oysters
2 slices bacon
2 tbs butter
2 eggs, beaten lightly
more salt and pepper

Instructions

Season the cracker/bread crumb mixture or flour with some salt and pepper. Mix the 1 tablespoon of milk into the beaten egg. Dip the oysters into the beaten egg mixture and then dredge with the crumb mixture or flour.

Heat the butter in a skillet over high med-high heat. Add the oysters to a medium size skillet and fry them until golden-brown and crisp on the outside.

Meanwhile fry the bacon strips in a separate skillet until almost crisp, but still slightly chewy.

Melt the 2 tbs butter in a skillet and place the bacon strips beside each other in the pan, just off center. Pour a small amount of the eggs over the bacon. Place the oysters on the bacon. Pour the remaining eggs over the oysters. Place a lid on the skillet and cook over medium heat until the eggs are set. Serve as a flat omelete.

Hint: Unless you have a well-seasoned skillet such as black carbon steel or cast iron, use a non-stick pans.

References
1. Kelly, Leslie A. Traveling California's Gold Rush Country. Helena, MT: Falcon, 1997. 116-117.
2. "Menu at a Glance." Tadich Grill. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.tadichgrill.com/menu.php>.
3. Goggans, Jan, and Aaron DiFranco. The Pacific Region. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004. 254.
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