When I hear “Fried Green Tomatoes” I immediately think of the eponymous book by Fannie Flagg and the movie it was made into. It wasn’t something we had growing up, because we raised our tomato flock (yes, flock) to be eaten red or canned. It wasn’t until I branched away from home that I actually had any or made any, and I’ve discovered that it seems to be the “in” thing among coastal restaurants down here. You’ll see things like “Fried Green Heirloom Tomato and Avocado Stack” with “Buttermilk Lime Dressing” and “Fried Green Tomato BLT with aioli” on menus. What? Wait, when did something so simple get turned upside down? I’m taking back FGTs from the fancy chefs and putting it back where it belongs–on the farmer’s plate.
I cheated a little bit – although my tomatoes were a bit pink on the outside, I expected them to be mostly green inside, and well…they were starting to turn. But, what we have is what we have. I found, however, that using tomatoes like this yielded the distinct tartness that makes FGTs what they are but still keeping the tender mouth feel of a ripe tomato. Sometimes eating green tomatoes can be like chewing on a hockey puck. We slice them, lay them to dry for a few hours in the refrigerator on a sheet pan lined with paper towels. A generous sprinkling of kosher salt is also in order pre-refrigeration.
When you’re ready to fry, bring out your electric fryer (you know, the one that has Daddy in the name) because I certainly don’t heat oil with a candy thermometer in my dutch oven – I enjoy my facial features and prefer them not to be burned off. Once, as a teenager, I boiled over a large pot of oil this way and almost burned the house down. I still recall the horror on my mother’s face as she realized her curtains were ashes in the sink and the ceiling was black. “DO NOT COOK!!!” was the top item on her list of instructions when they next went out of town and left me home alone. Funny how things change.
If you insist on using the death-by-oil method, aim for 350 degrees F. Here’s the wet team – a generous pour of buttermilk – no measurements needed – and one gallus domesticus egg, beaten lightly with a fork.
Here’s the dry team – again, no real measurements here but rather a ratio: Two parts flour, one part cornmeal, a palmful of cornstarch (think tempura) and salt, black pepper, and cayenne.
Our tomato slices get soaked in the buttermilk as we will work in batches – slices can soak while others rest or are in the fryer.
I let them rest a few minutes to develop some stability. Then, they get a dunk back in the buttermilk and back in the dry team and immediately into the fryer. We’re basically double-breading them. I poke them a bit with the spyder as they’re cooking and flip a time or two to make sure there’s even browning and then once they’re golden they get fished out and onto paper towels to drain.
A note about sauces. I don’t care for the nouveau sauces (like buttermilk-lime dressing) and such that are being parroted by the chefs at these restaurants – I prefer simplicity, and that means blue cheese – a really good one at that. I thinned out a bit of quality Clemson Blue Cheese dressing with water and that becomes our sauce. This batch was gone in one sitting. Try it, it’s good!
Fried Green Tomatoes
by Jason Osborne
yield: 5 tomatoes, or 20-25 slices
5 large green tomatoes, sliced
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal (white preferred)
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
peanut oil, for frying
Slice and place tomatoes on a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Sprinkle with salt and place in refrigerator for 2 hours to speed up the process. Heat oil to 350 degrees F. Combine flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, and spices in a bowl and set aside. Beat egg into buttermilk. When ready to fry, dip slices in buttermilk and dredge in dry ingredients, placing the slice back onto the baking sheet to “firm up” for a few minutes. Dip the slices back into buttermilk, dredge again and place immediately in fryer until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve with blue cheese dressing.