I always thought that the greatest fried oysters on earth were found in New Orleans—until, that is, somebody took me to Wintzell’s in Mobile, Alabama, and I ordered a jumbo oyster loaf. Wintzell’s, alas, is no more, but at least I had the chance to learn how they fried their glorious oysters—one secret being to always wait for the fat to heat back up to the right temperature before frying another batch. For these oysters, buy the largest grade available, and, for heaven’s sake, do not commit the cardinal sin of overcooking them—not one second more than 2 minutes. The oysters can be served with tartar sauce, mayonnaise, or horseradish cocktail sauce—or, in typical Gulf Coast fashion, can be stuffed into a baguette sliced lengthwise and spread with mayonnaise and pickle relish.
On a plate, combine the cornmeal, bread crumbs, black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt and mix well. Dip the oysters briefly into the butter, dredge lightly in the cornmeal mixture, and place on a large platter.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat about 1-inch of oil to 375°F on a thermometer or till a morsel of bread tossed into the pan sizzles quickly. Drop the oysters, a few at a time, into the oil, fry them no more than 2 minutes or till golden brown, turning once, and drain on paper towels. (To prevent sogginess, always wait briefly between batches for the fat to heat back up to the right temperature.)
Serve the oysters piping hot in a cloth-lined basket.
© 2007 All rights reserved. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.