Thursday, May 29, 2008

I left neither bread crumbs nor popcorn

Once in great while, the neuroses left behind on me as scars from my very winning and competitive corporate days, fail me. They just don't show up for work. Most of the time, they are right there next to me, forcing me to write everything down and recheck, recheck, recheck. But sometimes, this habitual OCD thing (redundant, redundant, I know, it's OCD, that's the whole thing) limbos off to its own separate paradise, likely spent and exhausted from driving myself (and Josh) completely mad.

It is on those days, generally, when something spectacular happens and there is no documentation apart from the photos, which are hardly enough to roundly detail for myself what we enjoyed most about one dish or another. It never fails. But I am willing to walk you through it from memory if you are willing to have a seat next to me here on the porch, in these last brightly colored and deeply fragrant days of a Southern spring...

It is at this time of year when the farmers begin to haul to the street corners and outdoor markets these huge green tomatoes. They are harder than you are used to maybe, a lighter green shade than one might expect because they are not heirloom green always, sometimes (though some will tell you this is expressly against the Fried Green Tomato Rules) they are just not yet ripe. The huge green tomatoes that fell into my basket at the market were indeed the latter. I am not afraid of these tomatoes any longer: Northern child that I am, the first time I made and ate a green tomato, myself and my Brother eyed them with suspicion, my Dad shrugged his shoulders and figured he might as well try them because Dad loved tomatoes. They were okay, a decent first attempt.

As my understanding of both the American South and the green tomato have progressed, so too have my preferences: I don't like a heavily dipped and battered tomato like the sort they serve at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, though there is a distinguished Southern following of this preparation. I prefer the tomato have a bit of the juicy seediness squeezed out. I like buttermilk and tempura batters, I do not care for beer batters. The salt used after frying should be sea or gray sea. Like I said, neuroses, right?

It just happened that my take from the market this week also included a couple of pints of grape tomatoes. I spent some time looking at them, the huge green and tiny scarlet tomatoes. Then I cut up bits of them to try raw and they were both (yes, even the green) deeply sweet and succulent. They should be a pair, I thought. And so they were.

First, I cut up the green tomatoes (cored and seeded them a bit too), then I threw them in a colander with a sprinkle of salt and let some water drain from them.

In the meantime, I cranked the oven up to 450, threw the grape tomatoes in a Pyrex dish, rolled them around with some really fine olive oil, salt, and fresh pepper.

And I roasted them for about 20 minutes, until they were a little browned, very shriveled, and their juice was everywhere around them.

Then I put a cup of sweet rice flour and some salt and pepper in a zip lock bag in which to dredge my green tomatoes. Now here is the really exciting part:I made a quick tempura batter with sweet rice flour, sort of like this one but use any you like, okay? I also wanted to add some Old Bay to mine, so I did, and here is what happened:

The top from the container and half the huge box of Old Bay fell into the tempura. Ooopsie. Now, wasn't that exciting? You don't have to do that part at home if you don't want to.

I had to throw the whole tempura batter out and start over because technically and actually, one cup of Old Bay in tempura batter is inedible (of course I tasted it), take it from me. But then I remixed the batter, measured in only a teaspoon of Old Bay, and was back on track.

Then! Green tomatoes into the dredge, then into the tempura batter, then into the peanut oil: I had been all the while heating four inches of peanut oil to frying temperature (down here in the South that is generally when a tiny drop of water from your finger tip sizzles nicely) in a big pot and I fried those green tomato tempura up until they were golden then lifted them to a plate covered with paper towels and hit them with gray sea salt.

Why, once they left a bit of oil on the paper toweling, I moved them to a big platter. Then I took my tender sweet roasted grape tomatoes and I placed them over the top of the tempura'ed greens. I went to the fridge and pulled out my buttermilk, ancho chili, and cilantro dressing to go along side my nifty new Fried Green and Roasted Tomato Chopped Salad. I piled all of this on a big silver tray with two forks and laid it on the table outside.

I went in search of Josh directly and without plates, the two of us ate from that big platter. Some food makes you like children again. And I tell you what: No plate of good warm fried green tomatoes should ever be interrupted by an over-zealous place setting or mannerliness. Just don't serve them when the boss is over, maybe. There is something decidedly spoiling about being interrupted on your way outside with your plate of bring-on-my-summer tomatoes and your lemonade. Heed no interruptions, suffer no fools. Just get outside with those old Southern sweets and be glad for summer and tomatoes.

Here is one instance when the hostess bids you poor manners and the ungracious shoveling in of your food. Summer is so close, you can taste it, I'll bet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

that salad takes me back only better. dilly s. carolina