TAIPEI OYSTER PO’BOY
“YOU’VE NEVER HAD OYSTER PO’BOY LIKE THIS”
Oh it’s Too-much-life Day. So lucky for you, you can be left alone with this salivating monstrosity without me breathing down your neck. Plus, you can’t possibly need introduction to this? OK, well fine…
There are things, overrated things out there that I just don’t get, unless, it’s made exactly the way I think it ought to. And this thing called the oyster po’boy is exactly that. I mean please, lettuce? Tomatoes? Things that have no business in the purity of what a fried oyster sandwich should have. Now, lobster roll would never subject itself to that kind of insult, would it? For a great, truly great oyster po’boy, all it’ll ever need are three things:
- A pile of sky-high, jacked up fried oysters with a meticulously curated breading, then tossed together with minced garlic, crispy Thai basils and a nostril-clearing dust of ground white/black pepper. An inspiration drew from the beloved Taiwanese street-style fried oysters.
- A kick-ass tartar sauce, a symphony of flavours sung by the tartness of capers, spiciness of pickled jalapeño, saltiness of mashed anchovies and a kick from minced shallots and Dijon mustard. Then listen to this, chopped hard-boiled egg. That’s right. This Frank Stitt guy knows what.
- A trusty, crusty submarine as the designated vehicle to drive it all home.
OH yeah, you’ve never had oyster po’boy like this, and you’re never going back afterward. Now I’ll see myself out so you can have some privacy with it.
Makes: 1 ginormous sandwich
Even though I called this the “Taipei oyster po’boy”, it’s really a Taiwanese-style fried oyster. It’s hard to say exactly how many oysters you’ll need because they often differ in size, but as sandwich-purpose goes, the only sensible/economical choice would the small/medium shucked oysters that aren’t meant to be eaten raw. 30 small oysters will make one jam-packed sandwich that will be lunch-size for 2 people. Of course if your budget allows it, bigger oysters requires less work to fry and of course will be meatier. Since we’re talking about size, I gotta mention the breading as well. I hate fried oysters with super thick breading. Especially small oysters which don’t require something thick like buttermilk for the breading to stick. A little dip in whole milk will do the trick. But if you’re using bigger oysters, as ratio goes, you may want the thickness of buttermilk for a thicker coating.
Then speaking of breading, the most ideal flour to use would be Taiwanese tapioca flour which has peculiar tiny granules that give the unique crunch and texture of almost all Taiwanese fried foods. It’s scarce to find outside of Taiwan, perhaps only in Asian specialty food stores. So to mimic that texture, I use a combination of common tapioca flour, fine cornmeal and coarse cornmeal which isn’t the same, but delicious nonetheless.
The ground white pepper and Thai basil in the recipe is so important for that “Taiwanese street-style fried oyster” taste. Both are irreplaceable.
- House-special tartar sauce (enough for 2 sandwiches): adapted from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table
- 1/2 cup (132 grams) of mayonnaise
- 1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp of finely chopped Thai basil
- 2 fillets of anchovy, finely minced
- 1 tbsp of finely chopped pickled jalapeño
- 1/2 tbsp of finely chopped caper
- 2 tsp of finely minced shallots
- 1 tsp of Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tbsp of lime juice
- 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
- 30 small-size, or 20 medium-sized shucked oysters
- 1 large handful of Thai basil leaves
- 2 small cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper + 1/4 tsp of ground black pepper
- 1 loaf of ciabatta, or Italian hero
- A wedge of lime and Tabasco sauce to serve
To make the house-special tartar sauce: Mix together all the ingredients evenly, then let sit in the fridge for at least 1 hour for flavours to combine.
To make the oyster po’boy: Whisk evenly all the ingredients under “Breading”, except for whole milk, and set aside. Rinse the Thai basil leaves clean then dab-dry with a clean towel, set aside. Very gently without breaking, clean off any dirt/impurity on the oysters under a large bowl of clean water, then set aside in another bowl lined with clean towel to absorb excess moisture. The oysters should look white and pearly. Place the minced garlic in another large bowl for tossing together later with the fried oysters. Slice the Italian hero open, and remove some excess breads inside to make room for the oysters.
To prep for frying, since the oysters and basil leaves will splatter, have 2 mittens plus a large pot-lid ready. Heat up 2″ of vegetable oil in a pot over medium-high heat (if it starts bubbling up quickly around a wooden chopstick that’s inserted into the middle, the oil is ready). Dip the oysters inside the whole milk, then coat them evenly with the breading. You can do several at a time, and leave the coated oysters inside the breading-bowl. Bring the bowl by the stove, then gently lower each oysters, one at a time, into the oil. If you don’t like splatters, hold the large pot-lid with your other hand to block off any potential attacks. While is oysters are frying, do the breading for the next batch (keep the pot partially cover if need be). Once the oysters are golden-browned on all sides, remove with a slotted spoon and place inside the bowl with the minced garlic. Fry the next batch. Gently toss the fried oysters and minced garlic together.
To fry the Thai basil leaves, grab all the leaves with one hand and drop them into the oil all at once, then immediate cover the pot with the lid, with only a slight opening for steam to escape. The splatter will quickly subside in a few seconds, then you can remove the lid. Fry the leaves for another few seconds until all the moistures have evaporated (no sizzling sounds), then remove with a slotted spoon, gently shake off excess oil, and place inside the bowl with the fried oysters and minced garlic. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper and 1/4 tsp of ground black pepper, and toss to coat evenly. Re-season with sea salt.
Lightly toast the Italian hero under broiler. Apply a generous amount of house-special tartar sauce on both sides, and I mean like almost 1/2 of the tartar sauce because we mean business. Pile those garlicky and crispy basil fried oysters on top, close the deal, and serve with a wedge of lime and tabasco sauce.