Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fried green tomatoes

We can all get many vegetables all year round. The supermarket tomatoes in winter are inferior, but you can make do with romas and cherry or grapes for lots of uses. Canned tomatoes are pretty much the way to go in any dish you're going to cook.

Zucchini is ubiquitous and seems pretty much the same in any month of the year, as are potatoes, egg plants, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc. Canned veggies should pretty much be avoided at all costs. The only ones I use are beets and artichoke hearts.

Then there is the freezer department. Peas, only available fresh during a short season of early summer (and expensive), are good frozen - as is corn, okra, and artichoke hearts.

But I didn't intend for this to be a Baedeker's on vegetables. Today I'm inspired by one thing you can only prepare from the real thing: a green tomato just off the vine. They start to ripen in only a couple of days so it's probably best to store them in the fridge unless you're using them right away.

I owe homage to Alton Brown for this recipe, and also to my partner, Peter, for the additional technique of salting the tomatoes and then toweling them dry after 1/2 an hour. Alton's ingredients are for more than we can eat in one sitting, so basically this is adjusted downward by 2/3. My contibution is the addition of cayenne pepper to the party.

Confession time: while Alton would use a thermometer to get his oil to a precise 350°, I use an old-fashioned method. When you think it's about there, flick a few bits of water from a respectful distance into the oil. If it pops instantly you're good to go.

We've been making our own breadcrumbs from leftover ends of loaves that are two small to be used for a sandwich. Just toast in until cry and crispy and chop them in a food processor. Again, a modification of Alton's plan: we used oyster crackers instead of the saltines he prefers. If you think about it, there is little difference between the two other than shape and size. Breadcrumbs of any kind (unseasoned) will do if that's all you have on hand.

Fried green tomatoes (serves two as a side dish)
1 large green tomatoes
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp water
oyster cracker crumbs
vegetable oil (enough to coat your frying pan about 1/3" deep)

1/2 hour ahead, slice the tomato (use 2 smaller ones if yours isn't large) to 1/4" rounds. Start by trimming a small slice from each end, which you can discard.

Place the slices on paper towels and sprinkle kosher salt over them. Let them stand for 30 minutes (or more if you want), then press them with paper towels to remove as much moisture as you can.

Sprinkle them with a little more salt, black (or white) pepper, and cayenne to taste. Dredge them in flour, then coat with egg (allowing excess to drip off), and press them into the cracker crumbs. Set them aside on a baking rack for a few minutes, test your oil and, when it's ready, carefully slip the tomato slices into it. If you use a ten-inch skillet with straight sides you can fit one whole tomato in. If you bulk up this recipe, cook the slices in batches.

It will take about 3 minutes per side. Just take a peak and turn them when the first side is golden brown. So as not to disturb the coating, turn them by picking them up by the sides with a a pair of tongs.

When side two is done, tranfer them to a paper towel with a plate. Take a second towel and dab the tops gently to remove some of the oil. You can add another sprinkle of salt (and/or pepper and cayenne) at this point if you wish.

Serve immediately and enjoy.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at: scrout1944@msn.com.

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