With Christmas less than a week away, it’s time for me to start packing up all of our stuff to bring back to PA for the holiday weekend and get a cooking game plan set for Christmas Eve. We’re leading that particular dance this year, which is great since we did zero cooking during Thanksgiving. We are going to do the seven fishes this year, but in order to maintain our sanity and to make sure that everyone can try at least a bit of everything, we’re keeping the portions small and basically treating the meal like a tasting menu.
One of the first dishes to go on the list was one I actually made earlier in the fall, not long after my birthday. My mother-in-law gave me a copy of The Essential Oyster as part of a Christmas gift, and while the majority of the book is a field guide to all of the different oysters found across the country, there is also a small section of recipes from various oyster-focused restaurants. These range from the classic (Grand Central Oyster Bar’s oyster pan roast) to the unique (smoked oysters with crème fraîche and Saltines), but the one I made first was one I knew would be a crowd-pleaser: fried oysters with pickled pepper mayonnaise and cucumber salad from Pêche in New Orleans.
I fully acknowledge that we’re not in prime cucumber season right now, but the few hothouse cukes I’ve picked up at the market have been surprisingly good. Dressed with some lemon juice and paired with fresh mint leaves, I’ll take a dish that lets me pretend it’s not dark and cold and gross outside, even for a few bites. And it goes so well with the fried oysters and the spicy mayo that I’d seriously try to make this all year-round when I want something that reminds me of summertime.
The main prep to keep in mind with this dish is allowing enough time to let the peppers pickle, since overnight is preferable. We’ll likely do that towards the end of this week lest we accidentally irritate any eyes in what will be a lively kitchen scene. The chili vinegar mentioned here can, in fact, be the vinegar that said pickled peppers create, and will help thin the mayo a bit in order to make it more pourable.
It should be an interesting meal, to say the least.
Fried Oysters with Pickled Pepper Mayonnaise and Cucumber Salad
lightly adapted from The Essential Oyster
serves 2-4 as an appetizers or first course
- 8 oysters in their liquor (I generally will use the shucked kind in a jar here)
- 1/3 cup cornmeal
- 2/3 cup white flour
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the pickled peppers (note: this is the full recipe and you will have leftovers. SAVE THEM.)
- 1 pound hot banana peppers, sliced
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups cider vinegar
- 2 cups white vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
For the cucumber salad:
- 1 cucumber, sliced
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup torn mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
For the mayo (again, you’ll probably have leftovers of this–save for another use):
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/8 cup pickled peppers, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced,
- 1 tablespoon chili vinegar (from pickled peppers)
Pickle the peppers: at least a day before you plan to have the dish, plan on pickling the peppers. Bring the vinegars, salt, and sugar to a rolling boil and pour over sliced peppers; let sit at room temperature for at least a few hours or overnight. Store in the refrigerator.
When ready to make the rest of the dish, start with the cucumber salad: combine the cucumber, onion, mint, lemon juice, salt, and sugar and toss well to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Make the mayo: combine all ingredients for mayo and stir; season with additional salt or vinegar if needed to make the mayo smooth and pourable.
Fry the oysters: in a heavy-bottomed pot, bring about three cups of oil (any neutral oil will do here, like canola) to 350 degrees. Combine the cornmeal and flour in a bowl, and season with a little salt. Drain the oysters, and then dredge them in the flour until well-coated. Working in batches, fry the oysters until they get crispy and golden brown, flipping once, about 2-3 minutes in total. Carefully remove them to a drain rack lined with a paper towel and season them well with salt and pepper while still hot.
To serve: place some of the cucumber salad on each plate, and top with 2-4 oysters (depending on serving occasion). Drizzle pickled pepper mayo on top and serve immediately.