Fried green tomatoes are a traditional side dish in the American South. This dish is also eaten in some Northern households, and it has crept its way into other corners of the world as well. When prepared well, fried green tomatoes are crisp, slightly tangy, and full of flavor. Like other fried foods, they are best when served hot, as they can taste greasy, cloying, or heavy when they are cold.
The green tomatoes used in fried green tomatoes are not tomatoes which are green when they are ripe, but rather unripened tomatoes. Sometimes it can be hard to obtain good green tomatoes, with farmers' markets being the best source. The quality of the tomato also makes a big difference: the mealy, hard, unripe tomatoes from the grocery store, for example, will taste mealy and bland when fried. Garden-fresh green tomatoes are often ideal, assuming one has access to them.
Traditionally, fried green tomatoes are prepared by cutting the tomatoes into thick rounds, dipping the rounds in buttermilk, and then dredging them in cornmeal. However, it can be difficult to keep the cornmeal crust from falling off during the cooking process when this technique is used. As a result, some cooks like to set up a more complicated assembly line which includes an egg wash.
To use an egg wash, the tomatoes are dipped in buttermilk, dredged in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and then run through a dish of beaten eggs before being rolled in cornmeal. For a finer texture, a mixture of cornmeal and corn flour or cornmeal and regular flour may be used. At this point, the tomatoes are ready to be fried.
A heavy skillet is ideal for frying, with a thin layer of oil or lard, the traditional cooking medium for fried green tomatoes. Fried green tomatoes are cooked on both sides for several minutes, turning the crust a rich golden brown and softening the tomato. They are often served plain as-is, although some people add hot sauce, lemon, or salt and pepper, depending on their taste.
Green tomatoes work for this dish because they are still firm. Ripe tomatoes will fall apart in the cooking process, turning the frying pan into a sloppy, gluey mess of tomatoes and cornstarch. The use of egg also helps to keep the components together, ensuring that the result is a neatly cooked tomato round.