Fried green tomatoes grow into Southern legend

July 13, 2011 

The book and subsequent movie "Fried Green Tomatoes" (1987 and 1992) made a lot of folks believe that this side dish was as common as grits; that an old deep-South culinary secret had escaped to the outside world and finally gotten its due.

Hogwash ... or not?

If you are into exposes, dig into the details from "The Fried Green Tomato Swindle" by Charleston blogger Robert Moss (www.robertfmoss.com). His research revealed that nearly all the published recipes in the early to mid-20th century came from Northern or Midwestern sources. Furthermore, there may be a Jewish link.

On the other hand, Savannah author Damon Lee Fowler maintains in "Classical Southern Cooking" (Gibbs-Smith, 2008) that fried green tomatoes long have been on Southern tables, at least in the Carolina and Georgia piedmont where he grew up.

Anyway, the movie did vault fried green tomatoes into stardom at the Irondale Cafe -- the real identity of the Whistle Stop Cafe -- in Birmingham, Ala.

Other restaurants across the South soon climbed aboard. Now fried green tomatoes are found everywhere, at high-brow and low-brow places alike.

A James Island reader wanted ideas for expanding her use of fried green tomatoes.

Juanita Bryant of James Island offered a few below.

But first, it seems a recipe for fried green tomatoes is in order. Fowler's recipe is pretty straightforward.

Classic Fried Green Tomatoes

Makes: About 6 servings

4 to 6 very green tomatoes

Salt and whole black pepper in a pepper mill

1 cup fine corn meal, spread on a dinner plate

2 large eggs, lightly beaten in a wide, shallow bowl

1 cup bacon drippings (1/4 to 1/2 cup of drippings with vegetable oil to equal 1 cup)

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat it to 150-170 degrees. Fit a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and put it in the oven. Stem, core and slice the tomatoes crosswise about 3/8-inch thick. Don't peel.

Lightly salt the tomato slices and let them stand in a colander for 20 to 30 minutes, then wipe them dry. Season lightly with salt and a few grindings of pepper.

Have the corn meal and eggs ready by the stove. Heat the fat in a well-seasoned iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, dip the tomatoes one at a time in the beaten eggs, let the excess flow back into the bowl, and roll quickly in the corn meal. Gently shake off the excess, and slip them into the pan until it is full. Fry until they are golden on the bottom, about 3 minutes; turn and fry until both sides are golden.

Blot briefly on absorbent paper, then transfer them to the wire rack and keep them warm in the oven while you are cooking the next batch. Repeat until all the tomatoes are cooked. Serve piping hot.

Recipe from Savannah author Damon Lee Fowler's "Classical Southern Cooking"

Fried Green Tomato Salad

4 salad plates

4 cups torn lettuce

8 to 12 slices fried green tomatoes

Cucumber Cream Dressing (recipe follows)

Bacon Bits or crisp cooked bacon, crumbled

Place 1 cup of lettuce on each of 4 salad plates. Put 2 or 3 slices fried green tomatoes on the lettuce. Drizzle cucumber dressing on the plate, covering lettuce and fried green tomatoes. Sprinkle with bacon.

Cucumber Cream Dressing

Makes: 1 cup

1 medium cucumber

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons grated onion

Peel and seed cucumber. Grate enough cucumber to have 1/2 cup after it has drained for about 15 minutes. Combine all ingredients, stirring well. Cover and chill.

Recipe from Juanita Bryant of James Island

Fried Green Tomato Crab Melt

Makes: 4 sandwiches

4 French hamburger rolls, sliced

Remoulade sauce or tartar sauce

4 fried green tomato slices

4 cooked crab cakes

1 medium red pepper, sliced in strips

4 slices Swiss cheese

Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of sauce on bottom slice of a French hamburger roll. Add fried green tomato slice, crab cake, a few red pepper strips and 1 to 2 tablespoons more sauce. Top with a slice of Swiss cheese and broil until cheese melts, about 30-45 seconds. Top with other half of bun.

Recipe from Juanita Bryant of James Island

Caprese Gone South!

Makes: 2 salad stacks

4 slices firm green tomato (1/2 inch thick)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs, beaten

2/3 cup panko bread crumbs, fine Italian bread crumbs or cornmeal

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/4 cup olive oil, divided use

Frisee or other mixed greens

4 slices goat cheese, or crumbles

4 slices cooked bacon

4 slices fresh yellow or red tomatoes (1/2 inch thick)

Balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil

Sprinkle green tomato slices with salt and pepper. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in separate shallow dishes, place milk, flour, eggs and bread crumbs seasoned with the tarragon.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Dip green tomato slices in milk, then flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs. In the skillet, fry half of the coated tomato slices at a time, for 4-6 minutes on each side or until brown. As you cook the rest of the green tomatoes, add olive oil as needed.

Place aside.

Begin stacking. Place fried green tomato on bed of frisee greens or other mixed greens, add a slice of goat cheese, 1 slice of cooked bacon, and a fresh yellow or red tomato slice that hasn't been fried. Repeat the layering. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil drizzled on plate.

Recipe from Angela McCrovitz of Charleston

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