We’re late-comers to Fried Green Tomatoes. Neither DH nor I have any memory of our mothers (who did most of the cooking in our childhood homes) preparing Fried Green Tomatoes. Orion, my father in law, was pleasantly surprised the first time I prepared this dish for him. About halfway through his second serving, Orion told DH & me that his mother used to make Fried Green Tomatoes, but mine tasted different. The difference in taste would be due to three things—Orion’s mother most likely used flour instead of corn meal and may have given the slices a wet treatment (dipped in egg or milk/buttermilk) before dipping them in flour, and she would have pan fried them either in lard or bacon fat. There are many recipes for the preparation of Fried Green Tomatoes, and the one below is based on nothing more than our preference for the simple and uncomplicated and our desire to experience the delicious flavor of the green tomato.
What I wanted to know was the history of fried green tomatoes. My research produced something interesting—fried green tomatoes were brought here after the Civil War by Jewish immigrants. Really? Both tomatoes and corn are native to the Americas. Are we really supposed to believe that the indigenous peoples of North and South America never thought of combining corn meal and green tomatoes? Well, somebody might believe these conclusions, but I do not.
What I believe, and this is purely speculation, is that green tomatoes and corn meal were indeed combined by indigenous peoples. As iron was unknown to these cultures prior to the arrival of Europeans, their corn meal dredged green tomato slices were most likely “grilled” on hot rocks. As tomatoes are native to Peru, it would not be at all surprising to find some form of “fried” green tomatoes in ancient Andean cuisine. It would not be at all surprising to find some version of "fried" green tomatoes in any or all indigenous cuisines of the Americas. Even if this is nothing more than speculation on my part, it is completely unbelievable that fried green tomatoes were unknown in the Americas until brought here by Jewish immigrants in the 1890’s. That is pure poppycock! Feel free to quote me.
Notes for this recipe: The amount of cornmeal needed will depend on the number of slices to be coated. Do not crowd the slices in the skillet. Give them room to cook and be moved. Slices must be seared on the outside and then cooked slowly creating a crispy cornmeal coating and a sweet soft interior. Achieving this takes patience and practice, but is definitely worth the effort.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Fresh ground black pepper
Wash and dry tomatoes, and cut them into thick slabs between ¼ and 1/2 inch thick. Select a flat-bottomed plate with sides (or a large pie plate). Measure out ½ cup corn meal and pour it onto the plate, add a hefty pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and mix with fingers to combine. Set aside. Preheat oven to 170. Place a paper towel on a heat-proof plate and put it in the oven.
Place a heavy flat-bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) on the stove. Turn the heat to the low side of medium-high. Pour about ¼ inch of olive oil into the skillet. The oil should be hot, but not smoking. It is ready when a few drops of water flicked with the fingers into the oil sputters and evaporates on contact.
While the oil is heating, press the tomato slices one at a time into the corn meal thoroughly covering both surfaces of each slice. When the oil it ready, put the slices into the skillet and pan fry until golden brown. Turn over and pan fry until golden brown and the inside is tender. About 5 minutes per side. Remove to the paper towel covered plate in the oven. Repeat with remaining slices, adding more oil as needed. (Be sure to bring oil up to the proper temperature.) Eat immediately.