Green Tomatoes in a wicker basket

Crafting the perfect fried green tomato

The unripe delight

fried green tomatoes battered

Fried green tomatoes stand as a quintessential emblem of Southern cuisine, yet Chef Charles Pajeau unveiled their unexpected Northeastern origins during a recent cooking demonstration at Alexander’s Restaurant. He highlighted their journey to Southern fame following the iconic film, “Fried Green Tomatoes.” This deceptively simple dish, often perceived as a complex delicacy, actually requires minimal effort, with the greatest challenge being the procurement of the perfect green tomatoes.

“Don’t use a ripe tomato,” Pajeau said. “The tomato needs to be firm. You should be able to add salt to draw out the moisture and still retain the texture.”

When shopping, opt for tomatoes that are uniformly green and have a plump blossom end, indicating maturity. For home gardeners, he suggests harvesting when the tomatoes are fully sized but before they begin to ripen.

Mastering fried green tomatoes involves a straightforward process. Begin by slicing the tomatoes into quarter-inch pieces, then sequentially coat each slice in flour, buttermilk (or an egg mixture for a healthier alternative) and panko breadcrumbs. 

“Remember: dry, wet, dry, when dredging foods for frying,” Pajeau said. 

Frying involves immersing the slices in hot canola oil, chosen for its high smoke point, to a depth that covers at least half the thickness of the slices. Once they achieve a golden brown hue, transfer them to a paper towel to drain, seasoning immediately with salt to enhance their flavor.

Chef Pajeau encourages personalization of the dish with unique toppings, offering a nod to tradition with pimento cheese or suggesting adventurous pairings like goat cheese and pepper jelly.

“For a healthier version, you can bake them on a baking sheet lightly sprayed with oil,” Pajeau said. “But I have to confess that while the healthy option sounds good for your heart, fried is good for your soul.”

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