By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
It wasn’t that Eldon did not like oysters; he liked them very much.
He was just particular about them. Raw oysters scared him, for he had known seafood poisoning, but otherwise, he liked them steamed, baked, broiled, in soup, and, especially, fried.
He preferred them fried, in fact. Fried oysters, however, were a little problematic, for, as far as they went, he knew definitely what he did not like; but was unsure of what he did, and was unable to clarify instructions to would-be cooks.
As far as the dislikes, fried oyster offerings were sometimes too greasy, too spicy, too heavily breaded, and so forth. Eldon was a purist: He wanted to taste oyster, not a fried dough-ball wrapped around the gobby shellfish, and he did not want his senses burned away by overwhelming Creole or Cajun seasonings.
The outside coating had to be crisp, while the inside had to be—well, the inside had to be however properly fried oysters are supposed to be. And don’t bother to offer him any cocktail sauce, either.
Condiments, for the most part, were merely disguises for bad cooking.
And though Eldon traveled enough to indulge his cravings for seafood, particularly oysters, he lived in a small Wisconsin town. A couple of small markets had oysters during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays every year, but none of the three or four local restaurants ever did. If he wanted seafood out of season, he was out of luck.
I became acquainted with all this when I married into the family. It did not happen all at once, of course, for it was (and is) a large family and it was easy to be overlooked. We had gathered for my first Christmas with the inlaws. As soon as Eldon realized I wasn’t one of his own progeny, and that I was the only one in the full house without an accent, he took immediate interest. He found I was born and raised along the coastal deep-South.
Yes, I was familiar with traditional Christian Southern cooking—fried chicken, cornbread dressing, pecan pie, and, yes, seafood. Yes, I was very familiar with oysters, liked them on the half-shell, and, in fact, had even “grabbled” for them. What was I doing there? Well, I’m married to your daughter.
You were at the wedding and gave her away. Can I cook? Well, pretty fairly. I get by. Can I cook oysters?
Long story short, an hour later we were prospecting at the local fishmonger’s.
I confess, the first batch I ever fried for Eldon were good, but not perfect. That was when I began to realize the nuances of his tastes and preferences. It did not happen right away, but after a few years, this became the recipe that suited him perfectly:
Assuming you can get oysters, first go wherever you have to go and get one of those four-bottle cartons of dry or semi-dry white wine. They’re the little bottles, and I suppose they are the equivalent of a wine-glass full. You will need one of them. What you do with the other three is up to you.
Pour the bottle of wine in a bowl with one severely beaten egg. You want the egg to be a little frothy. Mix well; add the oysters.
In a bowl of all-purpose flower, add salt to taste. That’s it. I did sneak in a little garlic powder, one time. I got away with it, but Eldon did seem to suspect something.
Coat the oysters one at a time in the flour, and without overcrowding, fry in a deep-fryer at 380 to 400 degrees until they look right. Be careful not to overcook them!
What you end up with is, a lightly breaded oyster that doesn’t hide its flavor. The wine mollifies its taste a little. They’re good, and though I came up with it, this is “Eldon’s Recipe.”
The world simply cannot afford to lose any good men, but we’ve lost Eldon Hall. He died Nov. 5, 2015, 88-years old. A kind, generous, loving man, and a Christian man, he was an asset to this world. Preceded in death by daughter Susan, he is survived by his wife of 64 years, Mildred; eight children; 22 grandchildren; and 14 great grandchildren. He will be missed. This will be felt all the more strongly because Eldon was “one of a kind”; he will be impossible to replace.
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