The Hang Town Fry is simply scrambled eggs, oysters and bacon. Here’s the culinary legend behind this menu item, found in an article by Doug Noble in the Mountain Democrat:

In 1849, just a short time after Old Dry Diggins had been renamed Hangtown in honor of the recent hanging of three desperadoes from the large oak tree on Main Street, a prospector rushed into the saloon of the El Dorado Hotel announcing that right there in town, along the banks of Hangtown Creek, he had struck it rich and had every reason to celebrate. Turning to the bartender he loudly demanded, “I want you to cook me up the finest and most expensive meal in the house. I’m a rich man and I’m going to celebrate my good luck.”

The Bartender called to the cook and relayed the prospector’s order. The cook stopped what he was doing and came out of the kitchen. Looking the prospector in the eye he said, “The most expensive things on the menu are eggs, bacon and oysters.”

The prospector said, “Scramble me up a whole mess of eggs and oysters, throw in some bacon, and serve ’em up. I’m starving.”

Thus the Hangtown Fry was invented.

I have no idea whether or not this story is true, but I love it either way.

On New Year’s Eve, we decided to make a Hang Town Fry as an appetizer. Carolyn was able to get some shucked oysters at Costco; we coated them in an egg wash and bread crumbs.

I fried the bacon, chopped it up, lightly fried the oysters until they were just about half-cooked. Then I mixed in the eggs with the bacon and oysters, gave it all a few hits of black pepper, cooked it up, done. About as simple a classic dish as I’ve ever made.

Like Chicken and Waffles, another dish with a wonderful backstory, the Hang Town Fry is a dish that is almost exactly equal to the sum of its parts. It is true, of course, that oysters (like most crustaceans) get along very well with pork, but the scrambled egg is basically a bystander, not adding much besides a context for the other two star products. Given that all three ingredients get a quick cook in a cast iron pan, there’s not much opportunity for flavors to marry, so each remains relatively distinct.

The taste is predictable, and though good, not much to rave about. It’s the story behind the dish that makes it interesting to me, and sometimes story trumps taste in interest value.

When the Hang Town Fry was originally served in Old Dry Diggins, it cost six bucks…and that’s in mid-nineteenth century dollars. I’m guessing a plate of eggs, oysters and bacon still costs about that to make at home. So if you’re looking for an inexpensive appetizer, with a cool backstory, serve the Hang Town Fry.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...