In my mind, the summer months in Texas are inextricably tangled up with one food above all others: tomatoes. Growing up, we had a dish of sliced tomatoes with nearly every single meal during the summer. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, the bright, ruby slices were consumed as quickly as they were set out, with just a dash of salt and pepper on top. Like cantaloupe, field peas and fresh corn, we barely ate them the rest of the year -- an experience that's quickly being replaced by the year-round availability of things like hothouse tomatoes in grocery stores -- and they were special because of this.
Are tomatoes that special anymore? Perhaps not, now that they're so readily available in, say, December. But green tomatoes are still a rarity, a special summertime treat and one of those dishes that keeps my feet firmly planted in the odd mix of Southern, Cajun and Texan cultures that permeated my youth in East Texas.
You shouldn't have to leave fried green tomatoes to fancy restaurants who are trying to pass off and mark up an inexpensive, old-school favorite. Make the tomatoes at home as a side dish to your dinner, a breakfast item to go with fried eggs, or even a main dish topped with grilled shrimp and served over grits. You only need a few items to be successful: a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, some firm tomatoes, cornmeal, buttermilk, salt and a little oil to fry the tomatoes in. The trick is this: Only use enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan, or the cornmeal on the tomatoes will come straight off when you place the slices into the skillet.
Instructions and step-by-step pictures for making fried green tomatoes at home are below.
Slice your green tomatoes about a quarter of an inch thick and set up your assembly line. Unlike other "fried" items, the tomatoes don't require an egg wash or flour before you dip them into the cornmeal. I just prefer the tang of buttermilk, and it helps the cornmeal stick a bit more. Pour a little in a bowl, add a healthy pinch of salt and pepper, dip your tomato slices into the buttermilk.
Make sure you've got the oil hot in the pan before the second step: the cornmeal. Heat your skillet to medium heat and pour in enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan, about half an inch at most. Don't use olive oil here; in fact, bacon fat is preferable if you have it. After their buttermilk bath, dredge the tomato slices in cornmeal and transport them directly to the hot skillet.
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Don't crowd the tomatoes in the skillet; this will make them take longer to cook, which means they'll get soggy from the oil. It will also make the tomatoes harder to flip, which you'll want to do as soon as they get nice and brown on one side.
After cooking on both sides to a nutty brown color, remove the tomatoes and drain them on a paper towel. Serve them while they're hot, with just a dash of salt and Tabasco sauce on top (to taste, of course), and enjoy the fleeting taste of summer tomatoes while it lasts.