Foray in Frying

Last week the kind folks I work for brought me a bag of green tomatoes from their home garden. It’s late October and receiving a bag of tomatoes, even ones I can’t just pop into my mouth (because they are hard and acidic when raw), was really exciting given the season. I honestly know only one use for green tomatoes and it’s the fried kind.

Here’s the thing: the only foods I fry in my house are latkes and they are greasy and good and it’s strictly out of tradition (a damn good one). I grew up in the 80s and 90s, the decades of low-fat and sugar free. Hello Sweet N’ Low and Coffee-Mate Creamer. Those items (among many others) were banned in the house I grew up in and looking back on it for good reason–most people cannot pronounce any of the ingredients in either of those products. The other thing no one dreamed of making at home during those decades? Fried anything. The hypocrisy is that eating fried foods out of the house seems to be not so taboo. When was the last time anyone in their right mind turned down french fries? “It’s a treat” or “I’ll only have a bite” and my favorite from one of my fellow soldiers in culinary adventures, “We’ll take four weapons with that dessert, please” (so we don’t all have to eat our own dessert).

Something about preparing highly caloric food at home is off limits for many. I wonder why that is? I asked myself that question when I was handed the bag of tomatoes and realized that frying was in my near future. Am I actually scared of the calories? A definitive no. However, I know that unbridled access to rich foods is too much for some people to handle. That’s not what was bothering me, though. When I dug deep I realized I was terrified of the act of frying! Amateur frying can be quite dangerous and let’s be real here: I’m a well-seasoned, confident cook but a freshman fryer. The splatter and smoke of hot oil frightens me the most. But, frying was still in my near future so I started researching recipes.

As I went on a few themes emerged: cornmeal and flour, salt and pepper, egg and milk. Something I try to emphasize when writing about my cooking experiences is the idea of playfulness and experimentation in the kitchen. I rarely stick to one recipe, rather I review three or four and pull what I like from each to make a dish my own. A new cook might argue that recipe riffing is for those with more culinary experience but I strongly disagree. It’s about intuition and the willingness to mess up–whatever that means. As you move through the process, slow down and try to sense what suits your tastes best, even if it means straying from the recipe’s instructions. Also, with 99.9% of my recipe finding done online, one recipe usually leads me to another and so on. The path for these tomatoes was as follows: found a Fried Green Tomato with Buttermilk Green Goddess recipe on Yummly –> which lead me to a blog post on Taste by Williams-Sonoma –> ultimately leading me to Chef Sara Foster’s  aforementioned recipe. The dressing is what got me. Who doesn’t love dipping in a green goddess dressing?

Prep Frying  Final

Here is my version of the recipe. I used some alternative dairy, flour and sugar ingredients simply because that’s what I had at home:

2/3 cup gluten free all purpose flour
2/3 cup course ground corn grits
2.5 tablespoons coconut palm sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 tablespoon dried parsley
6 medium green tomatoes (firm but not rock hard), sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup almond milk w/ 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar mixed in
Safflower oil (or any other high smoke point oil–not olive).

Dressing:
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1/4 olive-oil based mayonnaise
2 scallions chopped
1 small kirby cucumber peeled and finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

*Medium-large sturdy frying pan (Make sure to use a sturdy frying pan that holds and distributes heat well. A cheap frying pan leads to burnt food very quickly).

*Splatter screen

Directions
In a small bowl, beat the egg and stir in almond milk and apple cider vinegar. Mix well and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients until spices are evenly dispersed.

In a medium to large frying pan, pour 1/2 inch of oil into the pan. Turn the flame to medium high and let the oil get very hot (about 3 minutes). You can test the heat by dropping a bit of the egg batter into the oil. If it sizzles then you’re ready to fry, if it’s slow to sizzle give it another minute.

(This is the part where I get nervous about frying. Where you have to put the first piece of food in the oil and hope it doesn’t shoot hot oil spritzer back in your face!) Deep breaths….oh and that sturdy pan and a high smoke point oil make ALL THE DIFFERENCE. In fact, those two things protected me more than the splatter screen which I hardly used.

While you’re waiting for the oil to heat up, one at a time dip the tomato slices in the egg and then into the dry mixture. Coat the slices well and carefully place into the frying pan. Because green tomatoes are not as watery as regular tomatoes, they oil has less to react to during the frying process. It’s why no one ever jumps over making fried red tomatoes I guess. Some things are meant to be fried, others not so much.

Many of the recipes I read urge you to not fiddle with the slices once they are in the oil. Let the heat and oil do it’s magic peacefully. I kept waiting for something explosive to happen and it didn’t. The whole process was surprisingly calm and loads more fun than I had imagined. I was so excited to be well on my way to making one of the great southern classics right here in my mountain home.

With a spatula, lift up a slice to check it’s color. If it’s golden or darker it’s time to flip (approximately 5 minutes). Repeat on the other side until a knife could slide through the center like butter and the batter is crunchy to the tap of the spatula. Again, it’s all about intuition. Unless you’re baking a wedding cake, there is no need for perfection in my opinion; you learn so much more along the way.

While the frying action is happening, combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Once the slices are fully fried, let them rest on paper towel for a few moments before serving. Spoon a bit of the dressing over the hot tomatoes and your mouth will melt. I promise.

For those that are still repulsed by the idea of frying (at home….because I know you eat fried food at restaurants), here are a few green tomato recipe alternatives.

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