Have you seen that now classic commercial where a bunch of cowboys get all freaked out about a salsa that is produced in New York City?!
Well, I found it similarly amusing to be in an elegant restaurant in New York City! recently where they were offering me a menu which included caviar service, foie gras and a Fried Green Tomato Salad. I had to have that salad! It was pretty good but it couldn't match many I've had in some mighty funky places in the South and… at the $14 price tag, I could have had a Catfish Dinner with hush puppies, cole slaw and a pitcher of cold beer!
I'm not here to talk about the economic realities of a restaurant in The Big Apple than versus, in say, Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky, (a place I've actually driven through, though I did not try their tomatoes). I'm here to talk about Fried Green Tomatoes.
Who first thought of taking an under-ripe, hard-as-a-stone tomato and putting it to use?
Thank you, wherever you are!
Maybe we put too much emphasis in having fruits… that is right… tomato is a fruit in case you thought it was a vegetable… so as I was starting to say...before I interrupted myself… maybe we put too much weight on enjoying fruits only when they are at maximum ripeness. In fact that is my favorite way, but….let’s explore the range of possibilities! We have come to understand and embrace ‘nose to tail’ cooking where we don’t just select out one small percentage of a creature to consume. That is savage and wasteful in the truest definitions.
So let’s look at it as if it were OUR garden and WE were the Farmers. Wouldn’t you love to reap the harvest in sequences… taking full advantage of what the cycle of nature gives up? Underripe, so to speak… to fully ripe? Often, ripening comes after the moment of picking. If they all are ripe on the same day we face an “embarrassment of riches” that will lead us to have to throw treasures out.
Instead….. if we pickle, dry, can, freeze or get ingenious we can enjoy the garden… ‘nose to tail’ too.
It’s from the School of The Ingenious that inspires me to listen raptly to something like, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” or “O Brother Where Art Thou” that I happily remake a dish out of the cookbook I wrote with my son, Justin. It’s simple to find a copy of “My Key West Kitchen”… or you can go to our website here at WLRN to get the recipe too. But for now…..
Get yourself some green tomatoes. (Ignore the look of pity from fellow shoppers who think you can’t seem to find the riper ones they found). Bring them home. The tomatoes that is. Rinse them and towel dry. Now slice the tomatoes medium and marinate them in a simple vinaigrette for half an hour while you mix a Dixie inspired cocktail. Justin and I dip them in a buttermilk mixture sparked up with hot sauce…. then properly coat them in a flour and cornmeal combo and pan fry them to a golden, crunchy luster! We also give them a little Caribbean flavor with Pick-a-Peppa and Cream Cheese. The late, great James Beard called for sprinkling them with brown sugar as they cook and finishing them with heavy cream. Now that's home cookin' too.
Perhaps a bit on the heavy side…. but you could always head out to the “Back 40” and chop a little cotton….
As for me?
I'll just watch the movie….. ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’, that is.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
©2012 All rights reserved by Norman Van Aken
Yield: Serves 4
For the Pick-a-Peppa Cream Cheese:
4 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 Tablespoon Pick-a-Peppa sauce
3 Tablespoons sour cream
½ each lemon zest
½ teaspoon lemon juice
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch black pepper
Mix all of the above together and set aside. Can be chilled and re-tempered at room temperature.
1-2 green tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices, lightly salted
1 Cup Vinaigrette, recipe follows
½ Cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 Cup seasoned semolina flour, recipe follows
3 Cups canola oil, or more as needed for frying
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
Marinate tomato slices in vinaigrette for at least 30 minutes. Now pour off the extra vinaigrette. (It can be used for another use if you like).
Mix the buttermilk and Tabasco sauce in a small bowl.
Heat oil in large pot until it reaches 350° F. One by one, dip the tomatoes in the buttermilk mixture, then in the seasoned semolina flour.
Fry for about 3 to 5 minutes or until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
For the Vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons Creole mustard
1/3 Cup Champagne vinegar
2/3 Cup canola oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
A pinch black pepper
Whisk mustard and vinegar in a mixing bowl.
Gradually add the oil while still whisking.
Season with salt and pepper and reserve.
For seasoned semolina flour:
1 Cup semolina flour
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Mix all the ingredients and reserve.
Place the Fried Green Tomatoes on a platter with a serving fork.
Spoon the cream cheese mixture on the bottom of each person’s plate as desired. (Or place a ‘smear’ on the bottom of each place and between each slice of tomato for a stacked version).
Place the hot, just cooked tomatoes on that and serve.
Note: This can be dressed up with a mix of lettuces on top as well.