Monday, September 11, 2017

Fried Green Tomatoes

I am a little sheepish to admit that until last weekend, I had never made fried green tomatoes.  In fact, I'd only eaten them once or twice before and while they tasted fine I wasn't wild about them. They just didn't live up to the hype for me. One of my home cook heroes is Jason's grandmother Mom Mom Jessie and she has been singing the praises of fried green tomatoes for as long as I've known her. This has been an amazing year for tomatoes and my garden has yielded quite an abundant crop. I was tending the garden one day and a very large unripe beefsteak fell off the plant. It didn't knock me on the head, but that green love apple gave me an idea and I decided to follow Mom Mom's advice and fry that baby up.

I read a few recipes and recommendations on line and consulted my best friend Jenny, who cooks them all the time. Basically, this preparation is the same as any other fried delicacy - the sliced tomatoes are dusted in flour, dipped in an egg wash and coated with cornmeal or bread crumbs before being pan fried in a flavorless oil. Jenny had some good suggestions, such as adding grated Parmesan cheese to the coating and double dipping in egg and flour before coating them in breadcrumbs, making for a thicker crust. Jenny also warned me to slice the tomato thinly so the inside cooks through before the coating has a chance to burn. Armed with tricks and tips, I was ready to fry my first green tomato.

For the coating, there are more choices than you might think. Cornmeal and Panko breadcrumbs seem to be the most common and in many cases they are mixed with flour, but I saw recipes that employed cracker crumbs, crushed corn flakes and a liquid fritter-like batter. I like using matzoh meal for dredging as it gives you a crispy and light coating, but I decided to mix in Panko crumbs for the extra crunch. I also happened to have buttermilk in the fridge, which acts as an excellent adhesive for coating fried chicken. Why not tomatoes?


1 large or several small to medium sized green tomatoes
1 large egg
1/3 cup of buttermilk
1/2 cup of matzoh meal
1/2 cup of Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup of flour
Dash of hot sauce
1 tsp each of salt and pepper
1/2 tsp of any seasonings that strike your fancy
2 cups of any neutral flavored oil for frying, such as vegetable or canola

Just like any fried food, there is science and technique behind the perfect result. Ultimately, you want a crispy, deep brown coating that adheres to the tomato and you want the inside to be soft and fully cooked but not mushy. In order for the coating to adhere to the tomato, it needs a glue to hold it in place. That glue has to stick to both the coating and the tomato without sliding off. The surface of the tomato has to be dry or the egg will just slip right off and your coating will not adhere properly. That's why fried foods are typically dusted with flour first. The flour creates a dry surface, which allows the egg to stick, then the coating sticks to the egg. When the buttermilk is added to beaten egg, it creates a thick, almost gelatinous goo that sticks beautifully.

The temperature of your cooking environment is also really important. The first step to this preparation is to put your oil on the stove to heat up. I like to use a cast iron skillet for all my frying, but any skillet will do. Pour in enough oil so that it comes up about an inch in the pan and turn the heat to medium. This will heat the oil slowly and allow it to hold its temperature during cooking.  The thickness of the sliced tomato is also an important variable. If its too thick and takes too long to cook, you'll have burned coating and a hard tomato. If its too thin, it'll get gushy and fall apart during cooking. While the oil is heating, cut the tomatoes into 1/8th inch slices, lay them flat on the cutting board and sprinkle them with flour. Then beat the egg and buttermilk together with a dash of hot sauce and in a separate bowl combine the bread crumbs, matzoh meal or whatever you're using with the spices. By the way, I used granulated garlic and a dash of cayenne pepper in my coating.

If you are organized about the dredging process, the whole task is much more manageable. Set up an assembly line with the tomatoes on one end, the egg mixture next to it and the coating on the end closest to the pan. Test your oil by dipping your finger in a little of the egg and letting small drops fall into the pan. If it sizzles when it hits the oil, you're ready. If it just drops in and does nothing, the oil isn't hot enough, but if it spatters like crazy, your oil is too hot. Flip the tomato slices over and flour them thoroughly on both sides so the surface is dry, then slide them into the bowl of egg and coat them well. Lift them out and let the excess egg drip off, then place the slice into the breadcrumbs. I like to shake the bowl around gently to begin to coat the tomato, but the coating really needs to be pressed in. With the palm of your hand, apply pressure to one side then flip it and do the same thing on the other side, making sure that your coating is really stuck on there. Shake off a little of the excess before sliding your coated tomato slice into the pan. You should only cook maybe three slices at a time to avoid overcrowding. They cook really quickly and as soon as the sides begin to turn golden brown, flip them over gently. I like to use two wooden spatulas to flip them so there isn't too much splashing around.

Once they are a deep golden brown, remove them from the oil one by one allowing then to drip off before placing them on a sheet tray. I do not drain any of my fried food on paper towels as the steam that is released from the hot food will create moisture, which is absorbed by the paper towel and transmitted back into the coating you worked so hard to get perfect. It'll get soggy and fall off before you know it. If you are concerned about drainage, put your fried tomatoes on a metal rack on the sheet tray to allow the extra oil to drip through. Sprinkle a little salt on the finished tomatoes while they are still hot.

Ya know when people say "you don't know what you're missing: and you think "yeah, right"? Well, that's exactly what I thought before that slice of fried green tomato crossed my lips. The coating was super crispy and the inside was tender with that slight tang you expect from a green tomato. We ate ours on potato rolls with goat cheese, green salsa and lettuce and they far exceeded my expectations. I spent the next two hours reliving that meal and making yummy noises. Think you don't like fried green tomatoes? Think again.

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