My mom gave me Sara Foster’s new cookbook, Southern Kitchen, a couple of weeks ago, and flipping through it before bedtime has quickly become my new favorite pastime. Never has comfort food looked so fresh and seasonal, and I specifically bookmarked her recipe for fried green tomatoes.
Frankly, fried green tomatoes are one dish I’ve tried — and messed up — a lot. When done right, though, they’re crispy, bright and magical.
Foster is the chef behind Foster’s Market in Durham, North Carolina, where fried green tomatoes are a cultural staple, so I chatted with her for tips on frying these soon-to-be seasonal gems.
“I grew up on fried green tomatoes in Tennessee,” says Foster. “My mom and grandma made them. It’s a traditional thing to make across the South while we’re waiting for tomatoes to get ripe. They would lightly bread them and panfry them, and then sprinkle them with a little salt and sugar so there’s the sweet and salty thing going on.”
Foster has experimented with layers of seasonings, herbs and other ingredients in her fried green tomatoes, but she keeps coming back to the basics. “My favorite way to have them is really simple,” she says.
The chef insists that temperature and patience are essential for frying tomatoes. “The one key thing is cooking them long enough so the tomato gets tender,” she says. “I can compare it to an eggplant that hasn’t been cooked long enough and is bitter — you really want to cook it so the tomato’s not bitter, it’s tart. Just turn them once; if you’re turning them back and forth, they’ll lose some of their coating. And make sure the oil is nice and hot.”
The texture of your raw tomato matters, too. “You don’t want to get a green tomato that’s rock hard,” advises Foster. “It should be just starting ripen a tad bit, or if it’s not, you may have to cook it a little longer.”
In her cookbook, Foster pairs fried green tomatoes with a buttermilk green goddess dressing, but she has other ideas for serving them:
- BLT: “I love a fried green tomato BLT. We do that a lot at Foster’s Market. That makes a good little appetizer, too: do a crostini or grilled bread with a fried green tomato and slice of bacon, a dollop of basil mayo and an arugula leaf. I’ve been serving that a lot on my book tour, and people love it.”
- Tomato medley: “I also like mixing them with other tomatoes to make the salad a little lighter.”
- On the side: “Most often fried green tomatoes are used as a side dish in the South, as a vegetable to grilled chicken or steaks.”
Foster’s recipes tend to modernize classic Southern dishes for the home chef, so she uses canola oil for frying. “I like the way vegetable oil sautés because it’s a nice, clean oil with not a lot of extra cholesterol and fat,” she says, adding, “My grandmother probably would have used Crisco vegetable shortening.”
Another useful tip: drain the fried tomatoes on brown paper bags instead of paper towels. That’s what Foster calls for in her recipe, and when I asked her about it, she said, “It’s something my family did, and I rediscovered it when I was testing recipes. It really does help keep things crispier than a paper towel, where they just sit and steam.”
To finish off your fried tomatoes, Foster says, “Sprinkle them with sea salt when they’re hot. It absorbs a little better.”
Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk Green Goddess Dressing
I’ve shared recipes for fried green tomatoes before, but each time I’ve tried to gussy them up by adding herbs or layering them with other ingredients. I like those dishes, of course, but the fact is there is something wonderful about making fried green tomatoes the way my mother and grandmother made them—that is, simply. Stripped of nonessentials, the warm tartness of green tomatoes, tempered by a hint of sugar, and the toasted crunch of cornmeal crust shine through in perfect balance.
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 large egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more, to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more, to taste
Canola oil for frying
4 large green tomatoes, cored and sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1/2 cup Buttermilk Green Goddess Dressing (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a brown paper bag.
Place the buttermilk and egg in a shallow bowl and whisk to combine. Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, the 1 tsp. salt and the 1/2 tsp. pepper in a separate shallow bowl and stir to mix.
Pour canola oil into a large skillet to just barely cover the bottom and place over medium-high heat until sizzling hot.
One at a time, dip the tomato slices first in the buttermilk mixture and then in the flour mixture to coat both sides, shaking off any excess. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the skillet, carefully place 4 to 6 tomato slices in the hot oil and fry until the undersides are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and fry until the other sides are golden brown, about 2 minutes. (Wait until the slices get nice and crispy before flipping them over only once; if you flip them any more, the coating will fall off.)
Use tongs or a slotted spatula to transfer the fried tomatoes to the prepared baking sheet to drain. Place in the oven to keep warm and repeat the process with the remaining tomato slices.
Season with additional salt and pepper and serve warm with the dressing drizzled over the top or on the side. Serves 6 to 8.
Buttermilk Green Goddess Dressing
A classic of the West Coast, this dressing was created in the 1920s by San Francisco’s Palace Hotel in honor of a play by the same name. With buttermilk standing in for sour cream, my “Southern” version is light, tangy and chock-full of green herbs. It’s the quintessential spring and summer dressing, and because it’s all about using the freshest herbs—whether dill, chervil, sorrel or cilantro—I almost never make it the same way twice.
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise (store-bought or homemade)
1 small Kirby cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 Tbs. chopped fresh chives
2 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 lime
4 or 5 fresh basil or celery leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place the buttermilk, mayonnaise, cucumber, chives, tarragon, mustard, lime juice and basil in a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use, or for up to 1 week. Makes about 1 cup.
Think of this dressing as a backdrop for whatever herbs and light greens are in season. Herbs like dill, oregano, marjoram, thyme and parsley add personality and flavor while spinach adds a pop of green; peppery arugula and watercress add delicate heat; and lemony sorrel is refreshingly tart. To make an even lighter version, substitute plain low-fat yogurt for the mayonnaise.
Excerpted from Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen by Sara Foster Copyright © 2011 by Sara Foster. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s now lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.