Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fried Green Tomatoes (with a Savannah secret)

Fried Green Tomatoes. There seems to be no other fried delight that quite matches my love of these crispy slices of the South.

I love everything about fried green tomatoes. It's a thoroughly down-home, economical dish that has taken the world by storm since Fannie Flagg's eponymous book and movie. Though, against popular belief, this dish probably did not originate in the South (Read Robert F. Moss's blog about it originating in Jewish cookbooks here), it surely is one of the most Southern foods I can think of. 

 I love slicing these tomatoes and enjoying the beautiful visual texture of the fruit. It's a beautiful contrast from ripe tomatoes (which I love equally!). It amazes me how a fruit being ripe or unripe can create two vastly different culinary staples.

Today I'm going to share my secret to perfect fried green tomatoes. It all started when I read the book In the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, which is the basis for the popular movie of the same name. I loved the book and the many details the author shared about Savannah society. I came across this exerpt in the book, where the narrator is describing the caterer of Jim William's fabulous parties. 

Mrs. Wright's touch was easy to spot. Guests would nibble on a cheese straw or eat a marinated shrimp or take a bite of a tomato finger sandwich and smile knowingly.
 "Lucille .  .  .  !" they would say, and nothing more needed to be said. (Lucille Wright's tomato sandwiches were never soggy. She patted the tomato slices with paper towels first. That was just one of her many secrets.)

When I came across this while reading the book, the lightning bulb went off for me. I started patting my tomato slices when I made tomato sandwiches, and then the thought occurred to me, why don't I do this when frying up green tomatoes? 

Patting the tomatoes removes excess juice from the slices, so that they more readily accept the batter. The batter doesn't slide off and the crust is nice and crisp. It's a simple added step that really changes everything. Thank you Lucille Wright and John Berendt for this culinary magic!

Get 3-5 big, firm, bright green tomatoes. I bought mine at our local Farmer's Market. You can use tomatoes that are starting to turn red, but you don't want them to get too ripe or they will be mushy once you fry them.

Slice them 1/4 inch thickness. I like to cut some thinner so I have a variety of textures. Some nice and meaty, others crisp and crunchy.

Now here comes the secret step to success: dry your tomatoes slices in a paper towel, just like Lucille Wright. Be sure to change out the paper towel to a new one once it gets soggy. 

Gather the self rising flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, paprika and milk.

Add the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk to combine, then whisk in milk until smooth.

Dip each tomato slice one at a time into the batter, allowing excess batter to drip off. Gently scrape remaining excess batter off of tomato slice if needed. Dip one at a time as you drop them in to fry. 

Heat 2 inches of cooking oil in a skillet on medium high. When oil is at the correct temperature, the frying tomatoes will bubble but not splatter oil. I used light olive oil. Drop each slice gently into the oil. Don't crowd the pan: 4 to 5 slices at a time. 

Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown, then flip and cook 2-3 minutes more.

Drain the tomatoes on wire rack and paper towel. This is a great way to arrange them while they are draining (vertically) because it keeps the tomatoes crisper longer. 

Enjoy them immediately; fried tomatoes quickly get soft after they get cold. But when they come right out of the pan, yum! They are crispy, tangy and addicting. I served them with a zesty remoulade sauce; perfect for dipping! 

This recipe is a spin off of the one found in Fannie Flagg's Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook. 

Fried Green Tomatoes

  • 3-5 green tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup self rising flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmea
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3-4 green tomatoes sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • Oil for frying 

Slice tomatoes 1/4 inch thick and pat each slice dry. Set aside. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and paprika in a mixing bowl. Whisk in milk until smooth. Fill skillet with 2 inches of oil and heat on medium high. Dip tomatoes one at a time into the batter and let excess batter drip off. Place in hot oil. Fill skillet with 4-5 tomatoes at a time. Cook for 2-3 minutes until golden brown then flip and cook 2-3 minutes more. Drain on a wire rack and paper towels. Serve immediately. 

Zesty Remoulade

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  •  1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon creamy horseradish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients and enjoy.