If we believe everything we see on the big screen, then fried green tomatoes were invented at the Whistle Stop Café in Alabama, where Idgie Threadgoode manned the stove. And that's the truth, Ruth (Jamison).
We Yanks don't know much about dem green tomatoes; in fact, there's a better chance we've had a pickled green tomato from a Jewish deli than a fried one.
You Southern folks are so savvy, taking an unripe piece of fruit and turning it into a tasty morsel that works its way into the memory bank for time immemorial. How did you know such a crazy notion would work?
Well, it's quite likely that y'all got a lesson in ingenuity from the Italians, who in the 17th century were having issues with this newfangled vine fruit from the Americas and may have fried them while green for flavor.
What happens when you fry up a green tomato that's been dipped and dredged is a bit of alchemy, when a rock-hard, puckery fruit gets coaxed from sour to sweet and softens up like a teenage boy in love, held together by a crispy, crackly exterior of seasoned cornmeal that seals in the juices. The contrasts are near poetic.
Back in Idgie Threadgoode's day, those tomatoes would have been fried in either bacon drippings or lard, and some folks will argue there's no other way. But for vegetarians or saturated-fat worrywarts, peanut oil, with its high smoking point, does the job respectably.
Some folks like their fried green tomatoes with remoulade, a bit of mayo or even a few strips of bacon, for a full-on pork-fat experience. But me, I like them all by themselves, piled up like pancakes, with fork at the ready.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Adapted from Not Afraid of Flavor by Ben and Karen Barker
8-12 slices firm, unripe green tomato, 1/2-inch thick
1/2 cup buttermilk (alternatively, use same amount of milk or 1 egg beaten with 1/4 cup water)
1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Approximately 1 cup peanut oil (alternatively, lard or bacon drippings)
In a shallow dish, place sliced tomatoes in a single layer and pour buttermilk on top, making sure they are completely covered.
To make coating, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, cayenne and oregano.
With a pair of tongs, lift tomatoes 1 at a time out of the buttermilk, allowing excess liquid to drain, and dredge in cornmeal mixture. Tomatoes should be completely coated.
Heat oil over medium heat (preferably in a cast-iron skillet) – oil should be simmering, about 350 degrees.
Dip tomatoes into oil, in small batches, until crisp and golden, turning them once. Each side will take 2-3 minutes.
With tongs, remove tomatoes and allow to drain on paper towels or brown paper bags. Keep warm in a low oven – around 200 degrees – until ready to eat. Makes about 4 servings.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at email@example.com.