‘Tis the season for the Best Deep-Fried oysters! When you take a bite of an oyster from South Carolina’s ACE Basin, the Broad River, or the May, you are tasting the pristine waters it was raised in. I love oysters. Our Best Deep-Fried Oysters, Grilled Oysters, Smoked Oysters, Oysters Rockefeller……the list goes on and on. Yet, best of all I love this Southern version of our Best Deep-Fried Oysters and every other is a very close second.
While scents of sweet cedar and fresh cut magnolia leaves bring a rush of memories of Christmas past, for me it’s the taste of those briny Lowcountry oysters that signals the holiday season has arrived! It’s that time of year when cold weather arrives making it the perfect time for oysters. I believe the taste improves with December’s bone-chilling Lowcountry mornings – perfect for these, our Best Deep-Fried Oysters!
Native Americans who once inhabited South Carolina’s Sea Islands loved oysters, their ardor made apparent by the massive mounds of shucked shells they left behind. Early settlers made good use of the shells, baking them to extract the lime then mixing it with sand, oyster shells, and water to create a type of concrete called “tabby.” It was the perfect material for building houses and all kinds of structures, many of which are still standing. On a drive down Bay Street in Beaufort, you will pass by Tabby Manse, Circa1786, whose exterior walls are made entirely of tabby.
Other examples are the Tabby Ruins, a former slave home on Daufuskie Island, St. Helena’s Chapel of Ease, St. Helena Island, and Hilton Head’s Drayton Plantation.
Word among oyster purveyors is that thanks to aquaculture techniques and the environment, the Southeast is on the fast track to becoming the Napa Valley of Oysters. This trend is reflected by the high demand for South Carolina oysters.
Bowen’s Island Restaurant, 1870 Bowens Island Rd., Charleston
My very first memory of eating fried oysters took place at the end of a rutted dirt road in the marsh of Folly Beach, S.C. Bowen’s Island is a ramshackle restaurant that serves four-star seafood. All seafood is served with hushpuppies, still made from May Bowen’s original recipe, and are cream-rich inside their dark, crunchy skin.
Who would ever guess that this is a legendary Lowcountry restaurant and winner of the James Beard Award? Here you will find some of the most spectacular views in the entire Lowcountry.
My view from the porch at Bowen’s Island Seafood Restaurant while eating the best deep-fried oysters ever produced from the salty waters of Folly Beach.
Just in case you are coming to Charleston for the first time or entertaining folks from out of town, add Bowen’s to your Charleston Bucket List and include this awesome experience.
If you cannot travel up to Bowen’s, make some Deep Fried Oysters at home. Here’s how simple and delicious it is.
Best Deep-Fried Oysters
`1 pint Southern oysters, shucked and stored in their own liquor
1 pint buttermilk
2 1/3 cups cornmeal ( I use Anson Mills Antebellum fine yellow cornmeal)
2 1/3 cups flour
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
Set aside buttermilk in a separate container.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until well blended.
Remove oysters from liquor, draining excess so oysters are still wet but not dripping. Place all of the oysters in the buttermilk.
One at a time, remove each oyster from the buttermilk, allowing the excess to drip back into the container. Toss to coat all sides in the breading and press breading gently into the oyster to help it adhere.
Transfer to waxed paper-lined plate or cookie sheet until oysters are all breaded.
In a heavy stockpot with high sides fitted with a deep-frying thermometer, bring at least two inches of peanut oil to 375 degrees.
Keeping the heat at a steady 375 degrees and working in batches of six, fry the oysters until they are golden brown and just cooked through, about 90 seconds. Oysters curl slightly when done. Using a slotted spoon, remove oysters and drain on brown paper bag line plates. Serve at once with a side of remoulade or your favorite red sauce.
Serve them by themselves or on a bed of creamy stone-ground grits. Another great way to enjoy deep-fried oysters is on a bed of mixed greens topped with Buttermilk ranch dressing.
Painting by Michael Harrell.