Fried green tomatoes: great book, outstanding movie, but a foodstuff that takes some care to be worth the effort.
Maybe you’ve seen green tomatoes for sale at a farmers’ market. If you have a garden, chances are you’ve had to pick tomatoes in their green state before they ripen; these specimens are, of course, underripe and not sweet. But their tartness plays well when slices are fried up with a crunchy coating and paired with a creamy dipping sauce. And it plays extra-well when you layer those golden fried slices with lettuce, strips of bacon, and elevated mayo to create a heaven-sent Bacon, Lettuce, and Fried Green Tomato Sandwich.
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Our recipe for this sandwich, which was developed by the esteemed Matthew Fairman, takes thoughtful measures to avoid the biggest pitfalls of fried green tomatoes: coatings that are hard, or soggy, or that slough off at first bite. The first step is to sprinkle salt and sugar on the sliced green tomatoes and let them sit for an hour so that they purge the excess liquid. If this liquid isn’t shed, it can turn to steam and soften or otherwise disrupt the coating while the tomato slices are frying. Of course, the salt and sugar also deeply season the green slices.
Bacon, Lettuce, and Fried Green Tomato SandwichesWhat if the T in your BLT was a fried green tomato?
Next, the slices are breaded (using egg as a binder) in a mix of flour and crunchy panko bread crumbs that is seasoned with salt and Old Bay. Then they’re fried in a skillet until crisp and dropped into brioche rolls that have been slathered with Tabasco-spiked mayonnaise. Shredded iceberg and crisp bacon finish out the filling.
Slice the green tomatoes ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Even slices mean even cooking.
Sprinkle with sugar and salt and drain on paper towels to remove moisture.
Dip in a mixture of flour, panko bread crumbs, Old Bay seasoning, and salt.
Place the floured tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet.
Dip the floured tomatoes in beaten egg and then in the flour mixture a second time.
Shallow-fry the slices in hot oil for about 2 minutes per side.
This just might be the best BLT you’ll ever eat.
Fried green tomatoes are an iconic Southern food. Right?
Not so fast.
In 2011, food historian Robert F. Moss published The Fried Green Tomato Swindle and Other Southern Culinary Adventures, a book in which he debunked the idea that fried green tomatoes have deep roots in the South. In fact, the earliest references he could find to the dish were from turn-of-the-century cookbooks published in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. This makes sense if you think about it; there are a lot more green tomatoes up North, where the summer growing season is shorter and not every tomato gets a chance to ripen on the vine.
We can blame Fannie Flagg’s best-selling 1987 novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and the 1991 movie adaptation Fried Green Tomatoes starring Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy for introducing the idea that these are a treasured Southern tradition.
The Whistle Stop Cafe is based on a real restaurant, the Irondale Cafe in Irondale, Alabama, which is still open today.