Follow your nose and the red chicken tracks on the front porch of this restaurant roost with Lowcountry/French Huguenot–inspired pluck. Fat Hen’s “coop” has a convenient Johns Island address, situated virtually equidistant from downtown and the upscale resort barrier islands Kiawah and Seabrook. Congenial chef-owner Fred Neuville is a veteran chef and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He draws heavily on French classical technique and the ingredients indigenous to the Lowcountry at Fat Hen — so named because Fred wanted something that evoked nurturing images and a French undertone. Plus, it’s so much fun to say!
Fat Hen lays all kinds of golden dishes, from succulent short ribs braised in a rich veal broth to seared duck leg and thigh served with butter beans and garlic spinach. The sophisticated yet homey French country look and smashing food draw an eclectic, animated crowd. “Our price structure is such that we get the full gamut,” says Fred. “People drink Bud Light and people drink Cristal champagne.”
His oyster recipe (the fifth-biggest seller at the restaurant) was something he created many years ago, as a young chef working at a French bistro in Richmond, Virginia. He resurrected it at Fat Hen because it was a natural fit with the restaurant’s theme. “Oysters and country ham are very Lowcountry and the preparation ties in the French angle. The French have their hams, too,” says Fred.
Adapted from "The Charleston Chef's Table" by Holly Herrick.
- 4 thick slices Tuscan or country-style bread
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped shallots
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 3 egg yolks
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ¾ cup sliced wild mushrooms (cremini, portobello, shiitake, or a combination)
- ¾ cup finely cubed aged and cured country ham
- ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach
- 20 oysters, shucked
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Fresh parsley or thyme, chopped (optional)
Heat the oven broiler or grill. Brush both sides of the bread evenly with a thin coating of olive oil. Broil until lightly browned on both sides or grill until just charred. Set aside.
For the topping, heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the shallots and the wine and reduce by half.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the egg yolks and heavy cream to create the “liaison.” Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the liaison, mushrooms, and country ham to the pan, and stir occasionally. Once the sauce has thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 4 minutes), add the spinach and the oysters to the pan. Sauté, stirring, until the oysters just turn translucent and the spinach has wilted, about 3 minutes, depending on the size of the oysters. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over the warm grilled bread, dividing the pan sauce evenly. If desired, garnish with parsley or thyme.