A platter of crisp, Cajun-spiced fried green tomatoes is a fitting coda to summer
Many times I've tried to replicate the taste or flavor of a specific dish I've had. Sometimes, though, the memory is so distant that it turns out all I'm trying to capture is a feeling -- and create a delicious meal in the process.
That's how I felt about fried green tomatoes. Despite having lived most of my life in Virginia, the Southern staple was not something I often had. The only concrete, but now fuzzy, instance I definitely recall is eating them was in Huntsville, Alabama. I was in between a work assignment and a trip to visit family, and while I waited for my husband's flight to arrive, I found somewhere to eat. I remember the fried green tomatoes being fantastic, but not much else about them. However, the weather was warm and pleasant in the courtyard where I sat, and I was relaxed and happy. Now wouldn't it be nice to feel that way again, albeit briefly?
Enter chef Adrian Lipscombe, a Wisconsin chef by way of Texas who recently launched the 40 Acres & A Mule Project to help Black farmers buy agricultural land. When speaking to her about eggplant, she suggested treating the purple-skinned fruit like fried green tomatoes. An intriguing thought, for sure, but when I decided I wanted to tackle actual fried green tomatoes, especially now that peak tomato season is wrapping up, I circled back with her.
And did she ever deliver. As someone who had never made fried green tomatoes and is generally frying-averse, I found the recipe absolutely airtight. Just a cup of oil goes into a deep cast-iron skillet, so there is minimal risk of splatters or boil-overs. Lipscombe coats the sliced tomatoes in an egg-buttermilk mixture and then dips them into a combination of flour, cornmeal and panko enlivened with Cajun or Creole seasoning. Then she does it again, ensuring a crackling crust that stays intact. They may well be the best things I have ever fried, and I've fried some good things.
Per her advice, I paired the tomatoes with comeback sauce, another Southern standby that's a satisfying mix of creamy, spicy and sweet. Food blogger Sommer Collier of A Spicy Perspective offers a version that is quick and pantry-friendly. She calls it "a poor man's remoulade." You may find you want to dip just about everything in it. I thought the sauce worked extremely well as a spread on the sandwiches I made with leftover fried green tomatoes (more on that below).
True to my hope, these fried green tomatoes did make me happy; very happy. Try a batch to share them, and hopefully that feeling, too.
Fried Green Tomatoes With Comeback Sauce
Fried green tomatoes are a Southern classic, and this version from Texas native and Wisconsin chef Adrian Lipscombe is true to its spirit, with a shatteringly crisp crust enlivened by the addition of a Cajun or Creole seasoning blend.
Even the frying-averse should be able to handle this recipe. Only a cup of oil goes into a deep cast-iron skillet, and there is minimal risk of splatters or boil-overs.
Per Lipscombe's advice, we've paired the tomatoes with comeback sauce, another Southern staple that's a satisfying mix of creamy, spicy and sweet. Food blogger Sommer Collier's version is quick, pantry-friendly and tasty.
Make ahead: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 day in advance. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated as well. The tomatoes are best when freshly made, but they're still pretty good (especially on a sandwich) reheated in the oven at 350 degrees until warm and crisp again.
Recipe notes: Don't be tempted to reduce the flour mixture or the oil, though both will be more than you end up using. You need enough breading to comfortably toss the tomato slices, and I found that anything less than a cup of oil in the skillet didn't sufficiently cover the bottom or reach up the sides of the tomatoes for efficient frying. Only about ¼ cup of the oil is absorbed, so you can strain and reuse the rest once or twice, storing in a cool, dark spot.
For the tomatoes
3 medium, firm green tomatoes, cored and cut into ¼-inch slices
Smoked salt (may substitute kosher salt)
2 large eggs
1 cup whole or low-fat buttermilk
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons store-bought or homemade Cajun or Creole seasoning blend (see related recipe)
¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
¾ cup cornmeal
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup vegetable oil, such as canola
For the sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
Generous 1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon honey
1½ teaspoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon store-bought or homemade Cajun or Creole seasoning blend (see related recipe)
¾ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Make the tomatoes: Place the sliced tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet or large platter and sprinkle on both sides with the smoked salt. Let them rest for at least 5 minutes.
In a large, shallow bowl or pie dish, beat the eggs and then add buttermilk, whisking until combined. In a separate shallow bowl or pie dish, stir together the flour, Cajun/Creole seasoning, cayenne (if using), cornmeal and panko. Dip each tomato slice in the egg mixture and then the flour mixture, using the tines of a fork to move them (fingers tend to rub off the breading). Repeat the process. Double-dipping ensures a wonderfully crisp crust. Transfer the coated slices to a separate rimmed baking sheet. Every so often, scrape off the buildup of the flour mixture that will probably accumulate on the fork, but save a little on the side for testing the frying oil's temperature. Let the breaded tomato slices rest for at least 10 minutes (about as long as it takes for the oil to heat up) to help the coating set.
Heat the oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature of the oil, aiming for around 300 degrees. You also can test by dropping in a small clump of the moistened breading into the oil. It should immediately start bubbling and turn golden. If the oil just soaks into the breading with very little action, it's not ready.
In batches, fry as many tomatoes as you can fit in the skillet without crowding (we did about 5), for 3 to 4 minutes, or until dark golden brown. Flip and repeat on the other side. Halfway through each batch, rotate the slices 180 degrees to ensure even browning. The oil should maintain a lively bubble, but if it's too vigorous or the breading is edging toward burned, reduce the heat as needed.
Transfer the tomatoes to a rimmed baking sheet or large platter (from the first step, just wipe it dry) lined with a double layer of paper towels to drain. Let cool slightly (the tomatoes can be very hot inside) while you make the sauce.
Make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, ketchup, honey, hot sauce, Cajun/Creole seasoning and Worcestershire sauce until thoroughly combined.
Serve the tomatoes warm with the sauce on the side for dipping.
Serves 4 to 6
Nutrition (based on 6 servings)| Calories: 278; Total Fat: 12 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 64 mg; Sodium: 238 mg; Carbohydrates: 35 g; Dietary Fiber: 7 g; Sugars: 2 g; Protein: 8 g.
Tomato recipe adapted from chef Adrian Lipscombe of Uptowne Cafe and Bakery in La Crosse, Wis.; sauce recipe adapted from Sommer Collier at aspicyperspective.com.
Cajun or Creole Seasoning Blend
This spice blend is a typical seasoning in the cuisine of New Orleans. Feel free to use it in a variety of seafood dishes, but it would also go great with grilled or roasted meats.
Make ahead: The spice blend can be stored at room temperature for up to 6 months.
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried minced onion, or onion flakes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon granulated garlic, or garlic powder
Combine the salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, oregano, onion, basil, thyme and garlic in a medium bowl. Place in a small jar, with a tightfitting lid, and store in a dark, dry location for up to 6 months.
24 servings (makes a scant ¼ cup)
Nutrition (per ½ teaspoon) | 2 calories, 0 g protein, 0 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 94 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar
Adapted from The Washington Post archives.