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Fried tomatoes with remoulade dipping sauce

Food For Thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | Jun 29, 2017

(June 30, 2017) “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” is a 1987 novel by Fannie Flagg.

It infuses the past and the present through the budding friendship between Evelyn Couch, a middle-aged housewife, and Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman who lives in a nursing home.

Every week Evelyn visits Ninny, who tells her stories about her youth in Whistle Stop, Alabama where her sister-in-law, Idgie, and her friend, Ruth, run a café. These stories along with Ninny’s friendship, enable Evelyn to look at life with new insight while allowing the people and stories of Ninny’s youth to live on.

The book was made into a movie, and explores the themes of family, aging, lesbianism and the effects of racism. Another central theme is the importance of food in everyday life. Idgie and Ruth served fried green tomatoes regularly at the café; the tomatoes are symbolic of the connections and tastes shared between the two women.

To reinforce the subject of fried green tomatoes, Evelyn surprises Ninny as she reminisces with a basket of crispy, fried tomatoes. This is another figurative moment that Evelyn is deeply intrigued and looks forward to their time together.

At one time, fried green tomatoes were considered a peasant food but Flagg’s novel enticed culinary connoisseurs to reconsider and give the tasty morsels a second chance. The comfort food revivals of the 1980s also upped the ante for acceptance. Today, this Southern staple can be found in the most upscale restaurants with all the fancy frills.

Tradition is defined as an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior. That being said, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but fried green tomatoes may not be a Southern invention at all. Robert F. Moss, a food historian and writer in South Carolina, researched and found 11 recipes for fried green tomatoes published in newspapers between 1900 and 1919.

Interesting enough, all 11 recipes were in Northern or Midwestern cities. Moss continued his investigation and could not find any Southern newspapers that contained fried green tomatoes in the 1930s, only one in the 1940s, and none in the 1950s or 1960s.

Moss believes the crunchy slices of tomatoes made their way into the American culinary scene by way of Jewish immigrants. Moss did find recipes in several Jewish and Midwestern cookbooks of the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

The true origin of fried green tomatoes lies in the chapters of food for thought. But one thing is for sure, they are absolutely mouth-watering. A few tips follow for superior results.

Personally I prefer a tomato that is half green and half red. Green tomatoes have great texture but little flavor. Red tomatoes taste great but do not have the texture of green tomatoes. A combination of both produces the best fried tomatoes.

Canola oil is the preferred choice for frying tomatoes. It has a high smoking point and does not flavor the tomatoes. Make sure the oil is 350 degrees before frying. Do not overcrowd the pan with tomatoes, otherwise the temperature of the oil will drop and affect the crispiness of the texture. Add a few tablespoons of bacon fat to the oil; bacon fat enhances the overall essence of the dish.

The dredging process is simple. Place each slice of tomato in the flour, this process acts as a glue. Dip floured tomatoes into the egg wash (1 egg per 1 teaspoon of water). Finally, press each slice of tomatoes into the panko and cornmeal mixture. The ratio of panko to cornmeal is two-thirds to one-third.

After the tomatoes have cooked, place them on a cooling rack for 1 minute before serving, this process enhances the crispy texture. It is common practice to place the tomatoes on a plate lined with paper towels; having food rest on soggy paper towels will compromise your hard work.

Fried tomatoes are mouthwatering by themselves but there are those who are dippers and prefer a sauce. A basic remoulade that will pair well with the fried tomatoes has been provided. If you have never had the pleasure of devouring fried tomatoes, I highly suggest you give this recipe a try. Enjoy.

 

Remoulade

1 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise

1 tablespoon minced cornichons

1 tablespoon small capers, rinsed

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped

½ teaspoon Herbs de Province

1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly. Transfer remoulade to a serving bowl, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Fried Tomatoes

Canola oil for frying

3 tablespoons bacon fat

6 partially ripened large green tomatoes, cut into ¼- to ½-inch slices

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

3 teaspoons cold water

2 cups plain panko bread crumbed

1 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus extra for final seasoning

freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)

1. In a deep fryer or large skillet, preheat oil and bacon drippings to 350 degrees.

2. Place flour in a shallow dish. In another shallow dish, whisk eggs and water until fully combined. In a medium dish, combine panko, cornmeal, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper and salt.

3. Dredge the tomatoes through the flour and shake off any excess. Dip in egg mixture and allow excess to drip off. Place tomatoes into the panko mixture and gently press so more bread crumbs adhere to the tomatoes.

4 Gently lower the breaded slices of tomatoes in the oil and fry until golden brown on all sides. Do not overcrowd the pan.

5. Place fried tomatoes on a cooling rack for 1 minute. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.

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— Proverb

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