Food for Thought
Hold the barbecue: Houston's best summer restaurant dish is a different phenomenon
“Oh, what I wouldn't give for a plate of fried green tomatoes like we used to have at the cafe. Ooh!” — Ninny Threadgoode in 1991’sFried Green Tomatoes.
I’ve always liked that film and the Fannie Flagg novel it’s based on. But even though the name is about that lovely dish, barbecue is the real food star of the story. (If you don’t remember, go watch it again and than I dare you to eat barbecue again anytime soon.)
But fried green tomatoes are a Southern delight. Even though some food historians claim the dish was invented in the Midwest or the Northern states or even by American Jews (yes, there’s a recipe for them in the 1919 International Jewish Cookbook), I will always think of them as Southern.
Neighbors flock to this spot where the kids can play games while the adults sip cocktails and wine before everyone settles down to dine.
Not that we ate them growing up, but that’s more because my beloved mother wasn’t much of a cook when I was young. Her forte was tuna casserole with cream of mushroom soup. Dad said once that she made him a cherry pie after they were married and forgot the sugar. But I think those are the kind of stories that bond families together.
I wish I could remember the first time I had fried green tomatoes, I’m pretty sure it was in a restaurant in Texas, but I’ve fallen in with them again this summer.
And what’s not to love? Juicy green tomato slices, a dash of salt and pepper, a quick buttermilk bath before being dredged in cornmeal and lightly fried in bacon fat. Mmm, mmm.
Houston Chefs Catch On
Sous chef Adan Jauregui runs the lunch kitchen at Sorrel Urban Bistro and he recently served up an amazing fried green tomato appetizer atop a local tomato salad drizzled with guajillo aioli for a touch of heat.
It was a perfect summer dish, light, delicious and full of the flavors of the season.
And then there’s the FBLT at Brooklyn Athletic Club, where the tomatoes are of the fried-green variety, the bacon is thick and crunchy and the thick spread of house-made mayo tastes like deviled eggs. Neighbors flock to this spot where the kids can play games while the adults sip cocktails and wine before everyone settles down to dine. Even though chef Jeff Axline, creator of the FBLT, has decamped to join the culinary team at Monarch (as CultureMap first reported), the sandwich remains. Thank goodness.
These babies also show up on a lot of menus this time of year, Haven does a kick ass version and I’ve heard the ones at Lucille’s in the Museum District are excellent but I haven’t tried them yet.
Anyway, the trick is really in the breading. Too thick and it breaks away from the tomato inside and overpowers the flavor. Too thin and it loses the crunch factor.
But I have, a few times, tried to make them at home. With limited success. I’m not much of a fryer, hot oil tends to scare me the way a speeding ball headed towards me does. Hence, not good at softball or tennis either.
Anyway, the trick is really in the breading. Too thick and it breaks away from the tomato inside and overpowers the flavor. Too thin and it loses the crunch factor. The first time I tried this iconic dish they turned out a little on the mushy side but edible when I covered them in rémoulade and lump crab meat.
I’ve had better luck with this recipe from the Neelys, those purveyors of all things Southern comfort food, although I cut down on the amount of panko a bit.
But, as summer heads towards fall, whether you fry your own or eat them out at a restaurant, do indulge in this wonderful comfort dish.
And lay off the barbecue for a while.