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Was the first oyster eater bold or timid?

Was the first oyster eater bold or timid?

Jonathan Swift said that it was a bold man who ate the first oyster. It's more likely that this hypothetical man was actually timid--too timid to risk an encounter with the antlers of an elk or the claws of a cave bear. To put some protein on the table, he went down to the rocky shore and picked on defenseless oysters.

Whatever his motive, we owe this first oyster eater a great debt. Even today the true oyster lover prefers to take his bivalve straight from the half-shell.

Novices need to be inducted by degrees; start them out on oyster stew, then move them along with fried oysters or Oysters Thrift, the recipe that follows.

Oysters Thrift

3 jars (10 oz. each) small Pacific oysters

8 slices bacon

1 medium-size green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

1 medium-size onion, chopped

1 cup (4 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese

Hot buttered toast (optional)

Pour oysters into a colander and let drain. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp; lift out, drain, crumble, and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of drippings from pan. Add green pepper and onion to pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 10 minutes; set aside.

Arrange oysters in a single layer in a heatproof serving dish, pan, or rimmed platter (about 10 by 15 in. oval, or shallow 3 qt.). Broil about 3 inches below heat, just until oyster edges begin to curl. Turn oysters over and broil until edges curl again, about 6 minutes total.

Evently spoon onion mixture over hot oysters, then sprinkle with cheese and bacon. Broil about 3 inches from heat just until cheese melts, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve at once; spoon onto toast, if desired. Makes 5 or 6 servings.

There are at least as many Chinese chicken salads as there are Chinese provincial cuisines. All are united by having chicken (a necessity), lettuce (a strong probability), some sort of crisp noodle, a dressing containing sesame, and the exotic tang of fresh coriander (if possible).

This Szechwan version employs crispfried strips of won ton skins for crunch and adds peanut butter and chili oil to the dressing. The resulting salad has the suavity of chicken salad combined with the peppery warmth of Szechwan kung pao dishes.

Szechwan Chicken Salad

2 tablespoons cream-style peanut butter

1/4 cup soy sauce

6 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

About 1/4 teaspoon hot chili oil or cayenne

2 tablespoons sesame seed

Salad oil

8 won ton skins (about 3 in. square), cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips

8 to 10 cups finely shredded iceberg lettuce

2 green onions (ends trimmed), including tops, thinly sliced

2 to 3 cups shredded cooked chicken

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)

Place peanut butter in a small bowl; with a fork, smoothly mix in soy, a portion at a time, until well blended. Then stir in the vinegar, sugar, and chili oil to taste. If made ahead, cover, and chill as long as overnight.

In a 6- to 8-inch frying pan over medium heat, stir sesame seed until golden; set seed aside. Add about 1/4 inch salad oil to pan, increase heat to medium-high, and add won ton strips, a portion at a time; cook until lightly browned, turning several times. Life strips from pan with a slotted spoon and drain.

Place lettuce in a large salad bowl; top with onions, chicken, and dressing. Sprinkle with sesame seed, fried won ton, and cilantro. Mix to blend ingredients and serve. Makes 6 or 7 servings.

Walter Soh is a frequent contributor to these columns. A native of Honolulu, he has mastered the art of blending Oriental and Western ideas and materials in his recipes. This month's contribution is an exception, being purest fantasy. A devotee of simplified spelling despite his work in the composing room of a newspaper agency, he calls this snack Banana Delites.

If you think of it as a banana sandwich, it seems mildly comic, but if you think of it as a tropical fruit French toast, it's much more appetizing.

Banana Delites

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

8 slices soft-textured white bread

2 medium-size ripe bananas

Powdered sugar

In a shallow pan, beat eggs with granulated sugar until well blended. Dip 4 bread slices on all sides in egg mixture; drain briefly. Lay slices slightly apart in a well-greased 10- by 15-inch pan.

Peel bananas and slice fruit lengthwise into thirds, then cut crosswise to fit bread. Arrange banana evenly on bread in pan. Dip remaining bread on all sides in egg mixture, drain briefly, and place on top of bananas.

Bake sandwiches, uncovered, in a 450| oven for 4 minutes; turn over and continue to bake until golden on both sides, about 4 more minutes. Remove from oven, dust with powdered sugar, and serve; eat with knife and fork. Makes 4 servings.

Fried potatoes are sustenance that can carry you from one paycheck to the next if times are hard. They're also comfort food, the kind of dish that can make you fold your hands across your diaphragm with a quiet smile and fall asleep in front of the television set. But fried potatoes can profit from a little tampering. Arthur Vinsel gives them an unexpected Mediterranean flair with lemon and rosemary.

Vinsel's Potatoes

4 medium-size (about 1 1/2 lb.) red thin-skinned potatoes

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons olive oil

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup thinly sliced green onions (ends trimmed), including tops

1/2 to 1 teaspoon dry rosemary

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice


Scrub potatoes and thinly slice. Rinse slices and pat dry. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, melt butter in oil over medium heat; add potato slices and sprinkle with pepper. With a wide spatula, turn potatoes to coat all sides with butter. Cook uncovered, turning potatoes occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Add onions and crumble rosemary over potatoes. Cover pan and cook until potatoes are browned on bottom, about 10 more minutes. Turn potatoes; sprinkle with lemon juice and continue to cook, covered, until potatoes are browned on bottom and tender when pierced, about 10 more minutes. Season to taste with salt. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

Bland and characterless in themselves, noodles are known by the company they keep. Often seen with butter, cheese, and cream, they have acquired the reputation of being fattening. They need not be so; it's possible to serve light (not lite) noodles with sauces prepared from fresh tomato (salsa cruda) or slivered spring vegetables (primavera).

Rod Johnson has devised a sauce based on white wine fortified with the tang of lemon juice and capers; perfumed with garlic, herbs, lemon peel, and green onions; and enriched at the last moment with a little butter. The dish is a handsome complement to fish.

He prefers twisty noodles (fusilli or rotelle) because the spirals offer plenty of surface for the sauce to adhere to, but other shapes will do as well.

Lemon Noodles


8 ounces (about 3 cups) curled (fusilli) dry noodles

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 green onions (ends trimmed), including tops, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons drained capers

1 teaspoon dry rosemary

1/2 teaspoon dry basil

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1/4 cup (1/8 lb.) butter or margarine

In a 5- to 6- quart pan, bring 3 to 4 quarts water to boiling. Add noodles and boil, uncovered, until tender to bite, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, combine wine, lemon peel, lemon juice, onions, capers, rosemary, basil, and garlic. Bring to a boil over high heat; remove from heat and add butter all at once, stirring constantly to incorporate butter as it melts. Drain noodles and mix with sauce. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Crackling hot snacks, the Arizona cheese crisps on page 108 are made with large flour tortillas. These big tortillas are widely available in the Southwest and Southern California, but they are also simple to make.

Flour tortillas are easy to handle and are good plain, with butter, or wrapped into specialties like burritos or chimichangas.

For the parched taste of corn tortillas, you can add a little dehydrated masa flour to the dought. Masa flour, however, makes tortillas more fragile to work with.

To cook the tortillas, use a large griddle or, if necessary, a baking sheet or a pizza pan placed on direct heat.

If you like your tortillas soft, it's best to eat them warm from the griddle. Cooled tortillas, wrapped airtight, keep in prime condition to fry for cheese crisps.

Homemade Flour or Flour-Masa Tortillas

2 to 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, or 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 2/3 cup dehydrated masa flour (corn tortilla flour)

1/4 cup lard or shortening

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup lukewarm water

Butter or margarine

In a food processor, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and the masa flour), lard, and salt. Whirl until mixture forms fine crumbs. Add water 1/4 cup at a time and whirl until dough holds together.

Or use your fingers and rub flour, lard, and salt together until mixture forms fine crumbs; stir in water with a fork.

Pat dough into a ball. Knead on a lightly floured board until smooth, about 1 minute. Divide dough into quarters, thirds, or halves; to prevent drying, keep dough covered with plastic wrap at all times.

On a lightly floured board, roll dough quarters into 12-inch rounds, dough thirds into 15-inch rounds, or dough halves into 18-inch rounds; turn frequently and add flour as needed to prevent sticking.

On an ungreased griddle, 12- by 17-inch baking sheet, or 14-inch pizza pan, cook each tortilla on medium heat until dry looking and speckled with brown on each side. (If tortilla overlaps pan, use tongs or your fingers to slide it around and to hold it away from burner.) Stack tortillas as you cook them. Serve hot with butter. If made ahead, let cool, wrap airtight, and chill up to 2 days. Makes 4 tortillas 12 inches across, 3 tortillas 15 inches across, or 2 tortillas 18 inches across.

Photo: Measure diameter of dough to make flour tortilla the size you want. If your griddle isn't large enough, try cooking 12- to 18-inch rounds on a pizza pan or baking sheet; if tortillas still overlap, move them about as you cook
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Date:Apr 1, 1986
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