Gulf Coast Cooking

Tangy, crispy, tender: Fried green tomatoes a summer favorite

Farmers markets are now loaded with tomatoes, and, if you are a big fan, it has been a long wait for the season to arrive. Nothing equals the flavor of a true, vine ripe tomato.

The ones you buy in the grocery store are delivered with a two-week shelf life, and that translates into green. It takes a bright shining sun to properly ripen a tomato and to develop the flavor a true garden tomato has.

That being said, the merits of a green tomato, when properly battered and fried, are legendary. In the old days, fried green tomatoes were considered a side, but today's chefs are far more inventive than that, and you will find them being served in a variety of creative and delicious ways.

Can you imagine the first person to try to eat a green tomato? He must have been a hungry fellow. You hardly ever see green tomatoes served in any way but fried, but you occasionally see a green tomato mayo that looks good; sometimes they are used in a soup or a salsa. When a fried green tomato is cooked properly, it is crispy on the outside, warm and tender on the inside. It also begs for a pinch of salt, so if your doctor allows, don't forget a pinch just before serving.

BASIC FRIED GREEN TOMATO

4-5 firm green tomatoes

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups self-rising flour

Salt and pepper

Fill a deep cast iron skillet half way with oil.

Slice the tomatoes1/4-inch thick or

a little thicker. Lay them out on a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and allow then to "weep" for about 30 minutes. This is a necessary step to remove excess moisture. Daub dry with a paper towel.

Season the flour aggressively. Heat the oil to medium high, not smoking. Dip the tomato slices one by one in the buttermilk, then dredge in the flour. Deep fry until golden brown and crispy. As with all fried foods, serve at once.

FGT BACON CHEESE BURGER

1/2 pound 80/20 ground beef

1/2 pound fatty ground pork

1-2 teaspoons soy sauce

2-3 pinches red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

2 strips smoky bacon per burger

White cheddar cheese

Your choice hearty bread

Sliced tomato and chopped lettuce as you like it

Use the fried green tomato recipe above. Combine the pork and beef, soy, red pepper flakes, and pepper. Mix well and form into thick patties. Fry the bacon crispy and set aside, but work quickly! Grill the burgers medium well, just when droplets of blood appear on the outside, remove from the fire, immediately top with the cheese and cover to melt. Add a cheese burger to the bottom slice of bread, add two slices of fried green tomato and top with the bacon, then garnish. Serve at once.

LUMP CRAB SALAD AND FRIED GREED TOMATO

1 pound lump crab meat, well picked over

1/4 cup best olive oil

1/4 cup fresh, sweet cooked corn

Small bunch fresh cilantro leaves

Freshly ground black pepper

Lime wedges

Use the fried green tomato recipe above.

Combine the olive oil, corn, cilantro and black pepper thoroughly. Carefully fold in the crab meat; you do not want to break up the wonderful thick lumps of meat. Stack 2 to 3 rings of fried green tomato, garnish generously with the crab salad and serve with a lime wedge for your guests to add as they see fit.

Many think the best pimento and cheese is not made with pimentos at all. Roasted bell peppers, poblano or even jalapeños make for a great if spicy substitute. If you are going to melt your pimento and cheese, use Gruyere cheese. If you plan to serve it cold, use a white or yellow cheddar, but find an artisan American-made cheese if you can.

PIMENTO AND CHEESE WITH FGT

1- 1/2 cups grated cheese

1/2 cup roasted peppers

1/4 cup mayo

Use the fried green tomato recipe above.

This recipe requires little seasoning, as the peppers are spicy enough. Roast the peppers over an open flame, when blackened, place in a paper sack for 5 minutes. When cool, remove blackened skins over running water. Remove seeds and chop. Combine the remaining ingredients, mix well and slightly chill. Plate the fried green tomatoes, adding a layer of pimento and cheese between each, and a final dollop on top. Serve while the tomatoes are still warm and the pimento and cheese are chilled.

FGT WITH CRAWFISH AND CREAM SAUCE

1 cup cream

1/4 cup butter

3 tablespoons flour

2/3 cup cooked crawfish

1 pinch cayenne pepper

1-2 pinches salt

Lemon wedges

Use the fried green tomato recipe above.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the flour and, stirring constantly, cook for 3-4 minutes, but do not let it brown.

Whisk in the cream and slowly simmer to thicken. Add any juice you might have collected from the crawfish. When the sauce is just thick enough, test to see if it will cover the back of a spoon, add the crawfish and turn off the heat. Crawfish become quite upset and unpleasant if over cooked.

Plate the fried green tomatoes and garnish with the sauce. Garnish with lemon wedges.

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