Monday, January 24, 2022

On Cooking Southern: Fried Green Tomatoes and Okra

friedgreentomatoes&okra-DSCN7440
By Laurie Triplette
ldtriplette@aol.com
Southernism of the Week: 
That really fries(d) my grits: Something has got me all het up … in a bad way. Think being steamed with agitation about something, or having your goose cooked or your ticket punched… There’s no return.
WHISTLE UP SOME FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AND OKRA
Here we are, deep into mid summer in the South, which is like no other place on earth. If I were in Charleston (SC), I’d be singing that summertime song by Gershwin, even though we all know that the living in summertime is NOT easy.
But it IS magical.
It’s when the cicadas tune up their cacophonous music at dusk and a few fireflies, having survived their annual May-June get-togethers, twinkle like fairy lights among the trees. The air is so heavy with moisture that it feels like floating rain, and the light breeze carries intoxicating aromas of honeysuckle, magnolias and gardenias, underlaid with not-so-lovely notes of eau de o’possum, skunk, raccoon and armadillo. 
That’s the South for you: Complicated.
It’s that time of year when the land rewards us just for being here, and for our farmers’ hard work, reminding us why we endure the region’s climactic extremes. The corn is ripe, the homegrown tomatoes are plentiful and the okra is tender. 
I could wax poetic (and have) about corn on the cob and tomato sandwiches, and about grilled okra pods and tomatoes-and-corn-and-okra succotash.
But frankly, my dears, I’d rather discuss a little side dish that calls on our Southern culinary skills with the cast iron skillet or the deep fryer. I’m referring to fried green tomatoes. 

The degrees of greenness.
The degrees of greenness.

One might consider it a shame to pluck green tomatoes from the vine, when we know how succulent they taste upon achieving full vine-ripened juiciness. However, at some point every summer, our baskets runneth over with ripe tomatoes, and it’s almost mandatory to slow the flow by picking a few green ones.
Once a person dips her toe into the grease-bottomed pond of fried tomatoes, one has to wade in deeper and scoop up some fried okra … which just about everybody loves, even if they can’t stand the thought of boiling the stuff. 
The techniques for frying up green tomatoes and okra are pretty darned close. With both dishes, there are common considerations. As in life itself, our every choice affects the outcome.
Inappropriate tomatoes.
Inappropriate tomatoes.

How thick do we slice the tomatoes, 1/4-inch thick or 1/2-inch thick? (The okra is standard at about a half inch.) Do we coat the slices in an egg mixture, with milk or with buttermilk? Do we add hot sauce and seasonings such as Creole seasoning, garlic, or paprika, or simply add salt and pepper? 
Do we bread the slices with flour AND cornmeal, or only with cornmeal? And which type do we use — self-rising or plain? Do we get really fancy and throw in some breadcrumbs or (gasp) Panko? 
Do we fry the maters and okra in shortening or vegetable oil, or do we use old-fashioned bacon grease? Do we use the cast iron skillet, or do we go all urban and use the deep fryer? 
Whatever choices we make in frying our green tomatoes and okra, the results are sure to be favorable, as long as we keep the grease hot.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
It’s perfectly acceptable to fry the tomatoes dredged only in seasoned flour or seasoned cornmeal. It’s also acceptable to dip the slices into the egg mixture before dredging in either flour or cornmeal; this creates more of a batter coating. Some cooks don’t even dip into the egg mixture if the tomatoes are particularly moist. It all depends on the tomatoes and the cook as to what works during the moment! Salting the tomato slices and letting them “rest” draws out excess moisture that would otherwise prevent the batter from staying put in the hot grease. 

4 large completely green tomatoes

2 eggs

1 c whole buttermilk

3 splashes of Tabasco or hot sauce of choice

1-1/2 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp garlic powder or Creole seasoning, optional

1-1/2 c self-rising cornmeal

1/2 c bread crumbs, saltine cracker crumbs, or Panko, optional

2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Vegetable oil or shortening

1/4 c bacon drippings (for flavor)

Slice tomatoes 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, to personal taste. Place on racks; sprinkle a small amount of salt on both sides to draw out excess moisture. Allow to sit about 15 minutes.
tomatoes-closeup-DSCN7433Whisk egg and milk together in a medium bowl, and sir in the Tabasco. Scoop flour into a large shallow dish and stir in the optional garlic powder or Creole seasoning. Combine cornmeal, optional breadcrumbs, and pepper in another shallow dish. 
Dredge the tomatoes in flour to coat then dip into the egg mixture. Shake off excess and dredge in breadcrumb mixture, pressing down on the crumbs to completely coat. Carefully hold by the edges (or use a fork) and place back on rack for about 15 minutes.
Heat oil or shortening to about 350˚F in a skillet or deep fryer, adding enough to have at least a half inch depth of oil. Add the bacon drippings for flavor. Allow to heat fully before frying the tomatoes.
Using a fork to avoid losing any of the coating, carefully drop 4 to 5 tomato slices in the heated oil, not touching. Allow to brown on one side, about 3 minutes in skillet, perhaps less in deep fryer. Flip in skillet and repeat (if in deep fryer, they will float when done). Remove when golden, before they get too dark. Carefully remove to paper towels on a rack to drain and sprinkle lightly with salt. 
Serve while hot with a dipping sauce such as Spicy Remoulade, Comeback Sauce or Ranch Dressing.
FRIED OKRA
Too much flour will result in hard fried okra. Too much cornmeal will make it difficult for the coating to remain on the okra during frying. Skillet-fried okra results are more “homemade” in appearance than deep-fried okra, but can be tastier, when fried just below the point of burning it. Deep frying tends to seal the coating onto the okra. Be like Goldilocks and experiment until you find the combination that is just right! 

4 c of okra, sliced about 1/2-inch 

2 eggs

1 c whole buttermilk

3 splashes of Tabasco

1/2 to 3/4 c of all-purpose flour

1-2 T Creole seasoning

1-1/2 c self-rising cornmeal

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Vegetable oil or shortening

1/4 c bacon drippings

2 tsp kosher salt

okra-DSCN7434Whisk egg and milk together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the Tabasco. Scoop flour into a large shallow dish and mix in the Creole seasoning. Combine cornmeal, and pepper in another shallow dish. 
Dredge the okra in flour to coat then drop into the egg mixture. Fold with a  knife to coat all the pieces. Lift out with a fork and drop into the cornmeal mixture. The okra might be gummy. Keep folding and pour remaining flour into the dish. Gently continue to fold until all the okra is completely coated and not gummy. 
Heat oil or shortening to 350-360˚F. Drop coated okra into the hot oil, carefully not crowding it. Fry for almost 10 minutes (or less, depending on heat of the oil). Turn once with wide slotted spoon and continue frying about 5 more minutes until evenly browned and floating (in deep fryer). Remove to a paper towel-lined pan to drain. Sprinkle with salt. Fried okra may be kept warm in an oven preheated to 275˚F .
WHERE IN OXFORD TO GET FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AND/OR FRIED OKRA

Ajax Diner (fried okra – lunch only)

118 Courthouse Square

Oxford, MS 38655

662-232-8880

Boure (serves a fried green tomato salad)

110 Courthouse Square

Oxford, MS 386554

662-234-1968

Delta Steak Company (fried green tomatoes)

1007 College Hill Road

Oxford, MS 38655

662-234-0130

Irie on the Square (fried green tomatoes)

122 Courthouse Square

Oxford, MS 38655

662-259-2500

Locals on the Square (fried green tomatoes; also serves fried dill pickles)

309 N. Lamar

Oxford, MS 38655

662-234-9594

Oxford Grillehouse (fried green tomatoes)

114 Courthouse Square

Oxford, MS 38655

662-701-8285

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA)  and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site: www.tripleheartpress.com and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).

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