July 3, 2013

Plate this and word of your Southern hospitality will spread

By W. WAYT GIBBS The Associated Press

When I was growing up in Virginia, one of the signs of summer I anticipated most was the appearance of fat green tomatoes on the vines in our garden. We picked them well before they started to blush, dipped the thick slices in egg and milk, dredged them with cornmeal, salt and pepper, then fried them in a skillet.

click image to enlarge

Panko-crusted fried green tomatoes are served with bacon mayonnaise and fingerling potato salad.

The Associated Press

The combination of crispy, fried crust and soft, sour interior -- sweetened a bit by the heat -- was totally addictive. Like corn on the cob and potato salad, fried green tomatoes were as integral to the summers of my youth as dozing off to a late-dwindling dusk and the chirrup of crickets.

After I moved north and west, finding unripe tomatoes became a challenge; tomatillos are not the same. Farmers markets and specialty produce stores are your best bet. The recipe here sticks fairly close to tradition but adds a fascinating modern ingredient: Panko.

This Japanese-style breadcrumb is a relatively recent invention. The slightly sweet bread is baked by electrocution in an oven that is cool to the touch. Only the dough gets hot as current surges through it. The resulting loaf has no crust and is uncommonly airy when it is shredded into slivers and crumbs. Combined with cornmeal, the panko fries into a light, crisp envelope for the tangy tomato slices.

While you're on a Southern kick, why not go whole hog and also make a potato salad enhanced by homemade bacon mayonnaise? You can substitute Baconnaise from a jar if you're pressed for time or vegetarian; the store-bought stuff doesn't actually contain bacon (though it does contain milk and eggs)

The mayonnaise recipe below uses bacon drippings in place of oil and adds xanthan gum -- available in the baking aisle of most large supermarkets alongside other specialty starches and thickeners -- to give body to the mayonnaise. The downside of using bacon fat is that the mayo solidifies when refrigerated. But after warming at room temperature for 10 minutes, it becomes smooth and spreadable once more.

Once you have made the bacon mayo -- which yields more than you'll need for the potato salad recipe, but, trust me, you'll want to have extra on hand for other uses -- the salad is quick and easy. Small fingerling potatoes cook to perfection in the microwave in less than 5 minutes. Add a bit of mustard, onion and salt, top with bits of crispy bacon left over from the mayo recipe, and you're off with your picnic to enjoy the sunshine.



Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: Four sides

Canola oil, as needed for deep-frying

2 medium green tomatoes

5/8 cup (100 grams) cornmeal

1/3 cup (25 grams) panko breadcrumbs

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup cultured buttermilk

1/4 cup (2 eggs) blended whole eggs

Salt, to taste

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water.

In a tall pot or saucepan, pour at least 2 inches of oil. The pot must be no more than half full. Set the pan over medium-high and heat the oil to 390.

Use a paring knife to cut the core out of each tomato.

Once the water is boiling, add the tomatoes and blanch for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the tomatoes to the ice water. When cool enough to handle, remove the tomatoes and peel away the skins. Cut each tomato into slices 1/4 inch thick.

In a wide, shallow bowl mix together the cornmeal, panko, black pepper and cayenne. In a second wide, shallow bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs.

(Continued on page 2)

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