Weekend Project: Food

Weekend Project: Make These Crispy Fried Oyster Tacos

Chef Jasmine Norton of The Urban Oyster wants to make oysters more accessible.

Jasmine Norton makes fried oyster tacos
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Jasmine Norton first remembers eating an oyster as a very young girl at her kitchen table in Remington, a working class neighborhood in Baltimore. Her dad would bring them home, shuck them himself, and add a squeeze of lemon and a dab of hot sauce. 

“My dad convinced me to be crazy enough to eat an oyster,” she says with a laugh. “We were always a crab-eating family, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s when I could afford to splurge a bit and I really started indulging heavily in oysters.”

Norton got into them so intensely that she decided to start a business, The Urban Oyster, which began at area events before landing in a brick-and-mortar space in 2019. Currently, she’s shucking at local festivals and Sundays at the city’s downtown farmers’ market.

Her mission is simple, but ambitious—to make oysters more accessible to people that may have reservations about their origins, textures, and flavors.

“My friends and people in my culture did not like anything raw—even sushi or a very over-easy egg,” she says. “I discovered that it came down to a lack of exposure and access for a lot of young people or those of African-American descent. People think they are slimy or don’t know how to prepare and consume them. So the whole idea is to address those reservations and include other ingredients people might be more comfortable with.”

Norton calls this the “Lay’s potato chip” approach, referencing all the fun iterations the snack company has come up with using familiar flavors, like cheese, bacon, and BBQ sauce. That’s why her menu includes a variety of chargrilled oysters with preparations inspired by barbecue, teriyaki, and chili peppers. She also plays around with mignonettes, like cranberry, watermelon, and pineapple.

“We try and meet people where they are and start on the cooked side to see if they’ll eventually end up on the raw side of things,” she says. “You’ve got to actually try an oyster before you say you don’t like it.”

And what’s more approachable than tacos? A longtime staple on her menu, Norton’s fried oyster tacos come on a flour tortilla with honey-cilantro slaw and a tangy remoulade. Her tips include sourcing quality oysters—making sure there’s no discoloration or off odors—and making sure the oysters are fully coated in the batter before frying. 

“The oil needs to be nice and hot,” she adds. “I test the temperature by throwing a little batter in there and making sure it’s bubbling, active, and ready to go. From there, you want them to achieve a golden brown color.”

Norton also prefers a flour tortilla to corn so that the flavor doesn’t “overpower the taste and the contents in the taco, which is the star of the show.” On that same note, she recommends really piling on the oysters, slaw, and remoulade so it feels like an overflowing po’boy. 

If you can’t make it to Baltimore, try your hand at whipping up The Urban Oyster’s signature dish yourself.

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Fried Oyster Tacos Recipe

Batter

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (2 cups)
  • 3 Tablespoons Old Bay (3 tbsp)
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic pepper (2 tbsp)
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon pepper (2 tbsp)

Directions:
1. Mix spices with flour. 
2. Toss 8-10 oysters in the flour and spice mixture.
3. Heat cast iron skillet with canola oil (2 cups) at medium temp.
4. Oil should be ready after 10 minutes. Test by dropping a little bit of flour in the oil. If the flour sizzles, then it is hot enough.
5. Fry oysters until golden brown. Allow oil to drain with a rack or paper towel-lined plate.

Remoulade

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups mayo
  • 2 Tablespoons hot sauce 
  • ⅓ cup stone ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon garlic 
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

Directions:
Combine the ingredients, then blend.

Honey-cilantro slaw 

  • Coleslaw mix from the grocery store
  • ¼ cup of cilantro (chopped) 
  • ⅓ cup honey 
  • 3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar 
  • Sprinkle of salt

Directions:
Whisk all together, pour into dried coleslaw mixture, and toss.

Tacos

Directions:
1. Toast soft flour tortillas to your desire.
2. Add 4-5 pieces of the fried oysters, honey-cilantro slaw, and top it off with the remoulade 
3. Enjoy!

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Jess Mayhugh is the editorial director of Food & Drink for Thrillist, and considers oysters a basic food group. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
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