Warning: This post may induce clogged arteries.
While I find it doubtful that some people have never heard of fried green tomatoes thanks to the novel and movie, I do find that lots of people have never had them. And that, dearhearts, is a crying shame.
When I was about ten years old, my next door neighbor showed me how to make fried green tomatoes. (Yes, it was around the time when the movie first came out.) She was my grandmother’s best friend, and she was from Kentucky, and I thought she was the best cook in the world for quite some time. I don’t think I’d ever even considered that a tomato could be something other than red, or that you could fry it. When she and I went into the kitchen and dusted her fresh-from-the-garden unripe tomatoes with cornmeal, I thought that this might possibly be the coolest thing I’d ever done. They tasted like potato chips, but better, and I could have eaten them every day.
We made them once or twice after that, but she moved and I grew older and since we didn’t grow our own tomatoes, we didn’t have green ones. And, up until I moved and started going to a farmer’s market regularly, I didn’t see them for almost a decade. One morning, I walked past a wooden box of green tomatoes, shiny and hard as rocks; I bought four praying I remembered the recipe. I searched online, and found recipes that baked them (they aren’t “baked” green tomatoes) and coated them with breadcrumbs (what??) or panko (hell no!). So I played around with what I could remember.
They’ve gotten to be more popular fare at both soul food hole-in-the-walls and at upscale places like Georgia Brown’s in Washington, D.C.. A few years back I realized that a bistro around the corner from me served fried green tomato BLTs, and I started going to that place more regularly.
Now a confession: I love bacon. Unreasonably so. I obsess over it. If there is not some form of bacon product at my wedding reception, I will not get married, and my fiance knows and understands this. My love for bacon is unconditional: I like bacon on doughnuts, and fancy apple wood smoked or peppered bacon, and bacon wrapped around dates or scallops, or cheap bacon at Waffle House. I would eat some form of bacon every day if I didn’t think it would kill me. My friend and I even once convinced a bartender to order us a side of bacon at 10 p.m. on a Monday night. (And for that, he’s still on my favorite-person list.) There was a stretch of time growing up when all I took for lunches were BLTs on wheat toast and minibags of Fritos. A well-made BLT will cure most wrongs in the world. It’s the combination of textures (juicy tomatoes, crisp bacon, creamy mayo, crunchy toast) and the combination of flavors (sweet and salty).
So, the concept of a fried green tomato BLT rocked my world. I saw it on the menu and nearly wept for joy. The first few sandwiches I had were delicious, but when I went this past summer, I was disappointed. They were served with overly salted sweet-potato fries. The bacon was (if this is even possible)too salty. The tomatoes were mushy. The fancy mayo (spiced with something or other) was too much. The bread was unremarkable. And the lettuce was limp.
It was then I decided to make my own.
For one sandwich you’ll need:
- One big green tomato—it should be unripe, not one of the green heirloom varieties that’s actually ripe
- About a cup or so of cornmeal
- About a cup or so of milk (buttermilk is yummy too)
- Oil (I think canola works best, but you can use olive or safflower or whatever)
- Salt and pepper
- 3 strips of cooked bacon
- 2 slices of good bread
- Crisp, fresh lettuce
- A dab of mayo
Slice tomato into about half an inch thick rounds. Pour the oil into a skillet—it should be enough to just cover the tomato slices, or just under—and put on medium-high heat. Don’t burn it. Dump the cornmeal into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Dredge each tomato slice in the milk and then in the cornmeal. Toss the coated tomato slices in the skillet and fry until each side is golden. Turn the heat down as needed, because the oil—and your tomato slices!—will burn. When each side is golden, drain on some paper towels.
In the meantime, toast your bread. Put the mayo on, then lettuce, bacon, and finally the fried green tomatoes. Dig in.