The delicately briny flavor of oysters is representative of the waters where they grew, as distinctive in its way as the regional flavors of wine. They're often eaten raw, to better appreciate those subtle flavor notes, but this is far from the only way to enjoy them. Breading the oysters and frying them briefly in hot oil overpowers some of their flavor notes but magnifies others; and the contrast between their crisp exterior and delicate interior is memorable.
Heat oil in a deep fryer to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a thermostat-controlled deep fryer, use a deep, straight-sided pot instead. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to its side, and use that to monitor the temperature of your oil.
Set out a series of three shallow bowls. Fill the first with flour, the second with beaten eggs, and the third with cornmeal, breadcrumbs, panko or other breading material. Thin the eggs with a tablespoon or two of water, so they won't make too thick and moist a coating on the oysters. Season the flour with salt and pepper, or a seafood seasoning mixture of your choice.
Drain the oysters well in a colander, and turn them out onto a thick pad of paper towels. Blot excess moisture from the shellfish, so they're moist rather than wet.
Dredge the oysters a few at a time in the seasoned flour. Dip each oyster into the egg mixture, then lift it out and let any excess egg drip off. Toss the oysters in your breading, until they're well coated.
Fry the oysters a few at a time in the hot oil for 2 to 3 minutes, until they're crisp and golden. Dip them out with a slotted spoon, and drain them on brown paper. Keep them warm while you prepare the remaining oysters.
Serve with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, spiced mayonnaise or simply with lemon wedges for squeezing.
To keep the oysters from sticking to the basket of your deep fryer, lower the basket first and then drop in your oysters.
Oysters come in a variety of sizes; fry similar sized oysters together so they will be done at the same time.
Oysters are naturally full of moisture. Use a splatter screen when deep frying in an open pot, to prevent burns when the oysters pop and sizzle.
If your breading browns too quickly at 375 F, reduce the heat of your oil to 365 F instead and cook the oysters for slightly longer. This is still within the normal range of cooking temperatures, and the oysters will always taste better if the breading is not scorched.
Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations when operating a deep fryer. Children and pets should be kept out of the immediate vicinity whenever you're working with hot fat, and you should keep a fire extinguisher within reach in case of emergencies.
Prevent cross-contamination when working with raw eggs and raw oysters; frequently wash hands and surfaces with soap and hot water and dry with paper towels.