28 July 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes

My mom grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and her favorite "southern" foods from her youth often showed up at our table. Okra was a regular staple, as were collard greens, cheese grits, and sweet potato biscuits. Every once in a while as a special treat Mom even made her absolute favorite: boiled peanuts (there's a future post there for sure folks). Fried green tomatoes, however, never graced our plates, probably because Mom isn't a big fan of tomatoes period and also generally avoids anything fried. But when I fell in love, as a young girl, with the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, she gamely handed over her cast iron skillet and let me try my hand at making them using the recipe included in the book. I don't really remember much about the results of this early foray into the kitchen so I think they must have been pretty lackluster. Probably I was just disappointed that simply by making them I wasn't somehow magically transported to the Whistle Stop of my romantic/nostalgic fantasy.

Recently gifted several large green tomatoes from the prolific garden of friends (thanks Blaine, Laura, and Bill!), I decided to try again. Honestly, I'm now no more experienced in the nuances of frying anything, much less tomatoes, than I was back then, and I had no real recipe to use as a guide, but that didn't stop me. I also didn't have a camera on me to document these shenanigans and had to use my phone so I apologize for the extra-lousy photos.

What I did have was Laura's advice to double dip the sliced tomatoes--first in buttermilk, then in a mixture of flour and cornmeal, then once again in the buttermilk and finally the flour mixture. Laura's from Georgia so I figured she should know. It was great advice because these suckers were delicious! Really really good. If you wait until the oil is hot enough and fry them just right, the slightly sweet, slightly tart tomato gets cooked to the point of tenderness but not sogginess and is perfectly paired with the crunchy cornmeal batter. They were fantastic hot and straight out of the pan, lukewarm for seconds a little later, and still truly awesome leftover the next day cold straight from the fridge! Ketchup entirely optional.

If you can manage not to eat them all up unadorned as I did, I think they'd be phenomenal as a base for a poached egg with hollandaise, or some kind of gravy. Or how about a fried green tomato shrimp remoulade? I'm thinking yes.

Fried Green Tomatoes

**Please use this recipe as a loose guide. I was kinda eyeballing everything as I went, had to pour out more buttermilk, flour, and cornmeal a few times, and didn't really measure. I think it's a pretty forgiving process, though.

3 green tomatoes, sliced into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch rounds
1 cup (ish) all purpose flour
1 cup (ish) cornmeal
1-2 cups buttermilk (lowfat is fine)
peanut or vegetable oil
salt and pepper

Pour oil into a heavy skillet (cast iron is my fave) until it's about 1/2 inch deep (feel free to use more oil if you're feeling particularly extravagant or nostalgic). If you're frying up a lot of a tomatoes or want to finish relatively quickly, you might want to use more than one skillet. Heat at medium temperature until oil is quite hot but not smoking. Meanwhile, mix together the flour and cornmeal along with a good bit of salt and pepper on a plate and pour the buttermilk into a shallow bowl. When the oil is hot (you can test by tossing in a sprig of fresh parsley or other herb and seeing if it sizzles up nicely), start double dipping the tomatoes (buttermilk, then flour mixture, then buttermilk and flour mixture again).

As you finish dipping each tomato, drop it in the skillet. You want to fry only maybe 4-5 at a time depending on the size of your skillet--avoid crowding them. After a few minutes check the tomatoes--when they are golden brown, flip over and fry the other side. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels (now's not the time to skimp for the sake of the trees, folks). You might need to finish with a little extra salt to taste.

**Lily's lovebird, Birdy, helped me with my frying technique. Also, we made fried okra--same concept entirely.

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