What, Exactly, Is a Hangtown Fry?

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Photo via sfgate.com

In last week's San Francisco episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain visited the Tadich Grill to eat a hangtown fry, a dish he called "an abomination against God and civilization." What, exactly, is a hangtown fry? Put simply: it's an omelette that includes bacon and oysters, with an origin story with one of those epic food legends.

A hangtown fry is sometimes considered to be the first true California cuisine, a dish that originated around the time of the Gold Rush (1850s) in Placerville, California which at the time was called Hangtown. Reportedly, an enthusiastic miner struck it rich, walked into the local El Dorado hotel and demanded the most expensive dish on the menu. At the time, the most luxurious ingredients were eggs which had to be shipped delicately, bacon that was shipped all the way from the East Coast, and oysters that had to be shipped on ice from San Francisco – more than 100 miles away. Thus, the hangtown fry was born and became popularized by Tadich Grill, one of the oldest establishments in San Francisco, serving the delectable omelette for over 160 years.

Due to its unique name, rumors have swirled about how the hangtown fry got its moniker. One ubiquitous story is that a condemned man in a Placerville prison asked for the hangtown fry for his last meal, knowing that his execution would be delayed in order to procure the oysters.

The hangtown fry is commonly found in the San Francisco area, most notably at the aforementioned famed Tadich Grill, but otherwise is actually quite rare outside of California. Those visiting Placerville — the original Hangtown — will even find hangtown fry difficult to obtain. An updated version can be found at another San Francisco establishment, Foreign Cinema, where chefs Pirie and Clark serve a deconstructed version composed of pile of creme fraiche-infused scrambled eggs that acts as a nest for sugar-crusted bacon and lightly fried oysters, then topped with a pile of lightly dressed arugula and a few squiggles of tangy tomato vinaigrette to offset the richness of the dish. The only places we could find in New York City serving it are The John Dory and Stone Park Cafe in Brooklyn (Stone Park deep-fries the oysters).

— Cammie Nguyen

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2 Comments

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  1. Moira

    Egg, oysters, and bacon? It doesn't sound like an abomination to me. It sounds pretty good.

    Does anyone else remember another San Francisco dish called Joe's Special? No one outside of the Bay Area seems to have ever heard of it, and I have been looking for a recipe for years.

  2. Barbara Nielsen

    From SF Chronicle's http://www.sfgate.com archives
    JOE'S SPECIAL
    This dish is on menus across the country, but the original recipe was made popular at Original Joe's in the Tenderloin. It's nice to chop or grind your own chuck, which is what the cooks do at the restaurant, but purchased ground chuck may be used. Make sure to buy a grind with about 15 percent fat. Also, the amount of spinach may be reduced to 1/2 cup if desired.

    INGREDIENTS
    2 tablespoons olive oil

    2/3 cup chopped onion

    1/2 pound freshly ground chuck

    3/4 cup frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and finely chopped

    1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning, or 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano + 1/8 teaspoon dried basil

    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

    3 eggs

    Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste

    INSTRUCTIONS
    Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium-high heat, stirring from time to time, until it just starts to brown. Add the meat and saute, stirring, until it just loses its pink color.
    Add the spinach to the pan and stir it in. Add the Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork to blend. Add to the center of the skillet and scramble with the beef mixture.

    Serve topped with a sprinkling of Parmesan.

    Serves 2

    PER SERVING: 545 calories, 33 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 42 g fat (14 g saturated), 396 mg cholesterol, 206 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/08/13/FD249336.DTL#ixzz0PEg0V5LE

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