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From the California goldfields in the 1840s and following, emerged a heritage recipe unique to the US – and the Judicial System.  If you want to read about a monstrous period in American history, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Gold_Rush .

While this event resulted in the (conservatively estimated) deaths or massacres of 100,000 Native people, it also increased the population of San Francisco from a sleepy mission village- on the Ohlone Tribes ancestral domains – to a boom town of nearly 40,000 in 2 years.  Of course there was every crime and vice imaginable, from genocide to petty thievery.  Local communities and governments took justice into their own hands and doled out punishments of every description, whether they were proportional to the crimes or not.  So of course, many criminals met the hangman’s noose.  One town or another became so rife with lawlessness that it became known as Hangtown, due to the frequent, characteristic administration of capital punishment.  The origins of this dish emerge from legend, when one man was offered his Last Meal before walking up the scaffold.

Because of the turbo economy that was rising in California, and bouying the nation following the end of the Mexican-American War, the US went to the gold standard.  In those hedonistic gold territories, there was skyrocketing inflation- – can you imagine a hamburger for $50, a quart of milk for $75, and fresh eggs $20 apiece?  One unapologetic criminal apocryphally made history by asking for the 3 most expensive ingredients he imagined money could buy at the time:  Oysters, eggs and bacon cooked in a skillet together.  Presumably he met his Maker with his appetite fully satisfied by something like The $1000 Breakfast.

I first learned about this dish when I was reading Evan Jones’ amazing gastromical history, ‘American Food,’ which I briefly reviewed in this blog a couple of years ago.  If you want to try this very rich and delicious dish, even if you’re not planning to kick the bucket, I suggest putting it on your Bucket List.  You already know the 3 main ingredients – this is how I cook it.

For each serving –

1/2 dozen fresh shucked oysters in their liquor

3 strips of bacon

1-2 eggs

Also have on hand:

cornmeal or crushed cracker crumbs to bread the oysters (I used Blue Cornmeal today)

tabasco sauce

black pepper

a little cream to mix with the eggs

oil or butter for frying

Fry your bacon until brown and crispy and set aside on paper towels, draining most of the bacon fat out of a large heavy skillet.  Replace with some vegetable oil or butter and return the pan to medium heat while you bread your oysters.  First whisk an egg with a few dashes of tabasco sauce and season with some black pepper.  Dip your oysters into the egg, and then bread them with cornmeal, cracker meal (or flour or Panko bread crumbs if you like).  Brown the oysters well on all sides, and keep in mind that they don’t require much cooking time – probably just a few minutes.

Now beat your egg with a little cream, milk or water and pour over the cooked oysters and cook, stirring occassionally until the eggs are set but still softly scrambled.

-you can crumble the bacon into the cooking eggs

-you could cook each ingredient separately, making an actual omlette

-you could cook the oysters and eggs together and serve the bacon on top like a frittata

-you could look online and find out probably countless variations of this dish from the deconstructed-highbrow, to the shanty-town fry cook’s original hoosegow no-frills version.  However you decide to approach this little piece of culinary history, it’s easy, it’s truly delicious, and it’s fast…considering that it is actually slow food.

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Well, I was hanging out with the Dubious Citty Katt and a dozen friends of a Sunday evening’s repast.  I made a big mess of greens – which are now plentiful and a dollar a bunch at the farmer’s market.  For $3 worth of greens, 2 cups of rice and 1 cup of dried beans, this dish is as easy as 1,2,3.

(photo courtesy Brian Foster)

Get you a deep cooking pot – I often use a cast iron Dutch Oven – with 2-3 Tbsps of olive oil, or other fat.

saute over medium heat:

1 heaping cup chopped scallions (or a medium onion)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1 jalapeno pepper, simply slit up the middle, but still whole

After these ingredients have become transluscent, add:

1 handful of fresh basil, torn (or 2 tsp dry)

big handful cilantro chopped roughly

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp Old Bay seasoning

1 tsp dried crayfish or dried shrimp powder

1-2 tsp smoked paprika

6-8 cups torn/chopped greens:  this could be any one or more of the following –

mustard, turnip, beet, chard, collards, spinach, kale (curly, red, Tuscan, etc), wild greens (lamb’s quarters, sour grass)

1/2 cup vinegar – I used cider vinegar

1-2 cups water, broth or stock

Cover the pot loosely & cook for 15-30 minutes over a medium flame.  It is well known that many people grew up with greens that were cooked for an hour or two, but I have always found that 30 minutes or less gives you plenty of flavor, retains more nutrients & fiber.  Stir from time to time.  Remove from flame & allow to cool.  Don’t worry if you have  what seems to be an excess of cooking liquid.

Beans

1 cup dried beans, sorted and washed

3-4 cups water

Soak the beans overnight – or if you want to use the quick method- bring to the boil over high heat, remove from heat and cover.  Allow to stand for an hour.  Make sure the beans are well covered with water & return the pot to a medium high flame and bring to a boil once again – lower the flame to medium low, cover the pot & cook for 30-45 minutes until you have achieved the Five Bean Rule:  Give the beans a quick stir & select 5 random beans; give each of them a little squish between two fingers, and if all five are soft enough to squish – the whole mess of beans is done.  If one or more is still a little starchy or dinty, give the beans a little more cooking time.  And if you need more cooking water, make sure it’s hot water.  And never add salt to beans until after they are done cooking, or they will be hard and indigestible.

Rice

for 12 people I used 2 cups of white rice

Rinse the rice in a sieve or in the cooking pot until it has given up most of its exterior starch and the water runs clear.  Add a tsp salt & 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, cover & turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes.  Fluff with a fork

Now comes the fun part:  Mix all your greens and pot liquor, beans & pot liquor and the rice in a big vessel – this is ready to serve right away, but it only gains virtue with a day or 2 in the refrigerator.