Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mysterious Origins (Fried Green Tomatoes)

Vacation is over! About a month ago, Aaron and I were conversing with our friend Kristin over our shared love of fried green tomatoes and, wonder of wonders, she recently presented us with some gorgeous specimens, just waiting to hit the bacon grease. Alas, much like honey is the tether that keeps me from veganism, bacon makes any contemplation of full vegetarianism impossible for me. Extra virgin olive oil has its own rich, fruity store of flavors to contribute for those who are less meat enthused, but I'm fairly certain rendered duck fat would taste amazing, too.

Guilty pleasures
Having exulted over the joys of the flesh, now comes the traditional resulting guilt and shame. Like so many things I make, fried green tomatoes are not recommended for daily eating, but as an occasional treat, dig in. Funnily enough, while I now caution that fried green tomatoes are a somewhat sinful indulgence, at least one account of their origins claims the recipe is actually an Italian invention, the result of a papal edict against the consumption of ripe, red tomatoes as being too lasciviously succulent. It says something about the progress of our culture that a ripe fruit (the US government may disagree) was once considered the height of excess.

The face of temperance
Surprisingly rich in contentious history, others point firmly at the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, and the book upon which it was based, as catalyzing a trend such that nearly everyone in the US thinks of fried green tomatoes as a timeless southern specialty. Robert F. Moss traced the history of our tart and crispy subject, and he concludes it was, in fact, Jewish-American immigrants out of the Northeast and Midwest who propagated the recipe.

I don't care who made them, they're delicious
Whatever their origins, the fact remains that fried green tomatoes are delicious. The heat of the pan causes them to yield their firmness into warm and juicy softness, enveloped in the delicate crispness of panko breadcrumbs, and the taste goes from outright sour to a pleasant tang. A hint of smoked Spanish paprika and zesty ginger aioli step in to highlight the balance of salty, sour, sweet, and tart, and because fried things and mayonnaise are a dynamic duo that cannot be denied.

One-Two Punch
Fried green tomatoes

The egg wash isn't entirely necessary, which means, with the addition of olive oil, a vegan version is within easy reach. If you're still having trouble getting crumbs to adhere, try dousing the tomatoes in 1/4 c water whisked with 2 tsp of cornstarch.

2 large, firm green tomatoes
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly cracked pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 c panko breadcrumbs
1/4 c full-flavored cooking oil: bacon grease, duck fat, xvoo, etc.

For the ginger aioli:
1/2 c mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp freshly grated ginger root
1 tsp salt

Stem and core the tomatoes and slice into even rounds about 1/4" thick.

In a wide, shallow dish, whisk together the egg, salt, pepper, and paprika, then ready the breadcrumbs by emptying them into another dish or plate.

Crispy already
Dip slices of the tomato into the egg mixture, flipping to coat, then shake off the excess and dredge in the breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to help them adhere.

The assembly line
Stack the breaded tomato slices on a clean plate. Once all the tomatoes are coated, warm your oil in a large, heavy skillet (cast iron is always good) over medium heat.

Once the oil is shimmering, add the tomato slices, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry the tomatoes for about three minutes, until the underside is toasty golden, then flip and fry about three minutes more.

Can you hear the choir of angels?

Remove the tomatoes to a plate lined with paper towels to dry. To make the ginger aioli, whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl until fully incorporated. Serve promptly.


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