The secret to perfect fried green tomatoes revealed! Crispy, crunchy cornmeal coating on the outside. Tangy, tender-but-not-mushy on the inside.
In the South, we eat them like potato chips. You can never eat just one- unless you are using Grand Champion-size tomatoes, then maybe, just maybe you could stop at one. I like to use small to medium size green tomatoes so I can get more of the crunch coating in every bite. And to be honest, that’s the size my little garden produces! I’d have better luck winning a State Fair ribbon on my cakes and pies than my produce but I love having a garden, such as it is.
I did not grow up eating fried green tomatoes but when I tried them for the first time 20+ years ago in the Oxmoor House test kitchen, it was love at first bite, for sure. I did eat my fair share of fried sides, though, including fried yellow squash, okra, and potatoes. The fried yellow squash is the closest thing I came to a fried green tomato. My mom coated them simply in yellow cornmeal and fried them until golden brown. Now, you talk about eating them like potato chips, we absolutely did!
Fried green tomatoes can be made with really green, green, and slightly yellowish green tomatoes. If they get any more ripe than that, the sugars have developed and the tomato gets a little too sweet for my taste, not to mention juicy which makes it a little harder to get that crunchy crust and begins to get the “mushy middles”.
You can see just the slightest amount of yellow in this sliced tomato. The best time for me to make fried green tomatoes is toward the end of the crop and the big prize size tomatoes have already come and gone and I’m looking at small to medium size tomatoes.
The perfect width to slice them is 3/8″. One-fourth inch is too thin. One-half inch is too thick. Now, if I was specifically making them to fit in a club sandwich or a BLT sandwich, 1/4″ would be just fine, but as a side dish, go with the 3/8″.
Here’s where the magic happens. Prepare three separate plates for dredging the tomatoes before frying them. In one plate, combine all-purpose flour and salt. In the second one, whisk together the egg and milk. My recipe is for 3 small tomatoes. A good rule of thumb is 1.) one egg and 1/4 cup milk, 2.) 1/4 cup cornmeal and 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and 3.) 1/3 cup flour and 1/2 tsp salt for every 2 large tomatoes. This is a general rule. You may have a little left over but it’s better than scraping to the bottom and not cover the entire tomato.
Press the tomato slice into the flour mixture on both sides. Don’t forget the sides of the tomato! This is where many recipes fall short of explaining how to make the perfectly coated fried green tomato. The flour sticks to the cut side of the tomato easily because it’s already damp. If the sides of your tomato are dry and the flour is falling off, quickly run the edge of it through the egg/milk mixture and tap it back into the flour. Voila! All surfaces are coated.
Always start with the flour because that gives the egg/milk mixture something to “hang onto”. Otherwise, if you just dip in egg/milk mixture then cornmeal mixture, it will drip back into the bowl leaving the cornmeal mixture struggling to adhere to the tomato. As a bonus, the added layer of the flour boosts the thickness and crunch of outside crust. Boom! Secret revealed!
Lastly, after dipping the flour-coated tomato into the egg/milk mixture, gently press it into the cornmeal/breadcrumb/salt/pepper mixture. You may notice I use yellow cornmeal in most of my recipes. It is a personal preference but I believe we also eat with our eyes and the sunny yellow color is much more inviting to me and stands out on my plate. And as a food stylist, I would always pick the colorful yellow over white. On the flip side, I prefer to eat white Silver Queen corn on the cob because of its flavor.
This isn’t a video, but can’t you just hear that sizzle when I drop in the cornmeal-coated tomatoes! It is a familiar sound to me and takes me back to Evening Shade where I learned to fry many homegrown vegetables. I don’t fry nearly as much as I used to but get excited when I hear that old familiar sound. Ya know, it’s just like Pavlov’s dog. When I hear that sizzle, my mouth starts watering.
The oil in the pan doesn’t have to be very deep at all. One-fourth inch is plenty if you are small batching it. One-half inch is a good amount if you are frying 4 large tomatoes because the coating does absorb some of the oil.
The oil gets too hot for some nonstick skillets so I recommend cast iron or stainless steel skillets. Heat the oil over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. You will know it is ready when you sprinkle a few grains of cornmeal in it and it immediately sizzles. You can also use a candy thermometer if the oil is deep enough. I absolutely love using a digital, no contact infrared thermometer. You just point it at the oil and it reads the temp. Amazing. You want the temperature to be between 360 and 375 degrees. Keep a close watch on the oil while dredging the tomatoes.
Drain them on paper towels and enjoy!
Southern-Fried Green Tomatoes are the quintessential Southern side dish. I reveal the secret to my crispy, crunch crust that actually stays on the tomato. Many coatings slide off during cooking or aren't crispy.
- 3 small green tomatoes
- Vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/4 cup cornmeal I prefer yellow
- 1/4 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup milk whole or 2%
- 1 large egg
Rinse the tomatoes with cool water and pat them dry with paper towels. Slice them into 3/8" thick slices. (That's between 1/4 and 1/2" thick). Do not pat the cut surfaces of the tomato dry with paper towels.
Pour enough oil into a cast iron or stainless steel skillet to reach a depth of 1/4" to 1/2" . The oil gets too hot for some nonstick skillets. Heat the oil over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. You will know it is ready when you sprinkle a few grains of cornmeal in it and it immediately sizzles. You can also use a candy thermometer if the oil is deep enough. I absolutely love using a digital, no contact infrared thermometer. You just point it at the oil and it reads the temp. Amazing. You want the temperature to be between 360 and 375 degrees. Keep a close watch on the oil while dredging the tomatoes.
Gather 3 small plates or shallow bowls. I like to use paper plates for the dry mixtures for easy clean up. In one plate, combine the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. In the second plate, combine the cornmeal, breadcrumbs, pepper and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. In the third plate, whisk together the milk and egg with a fork.
Working 2 or 3 tomato slices at a time, press the tomato slice into the flour, coating both sides. If the flour doesn't stick to the edge of the tomato, run the edges through the egg/milk mixture, then back in the flour. Dip the flour coated slice into the egg/milk mixture, then gently press it into the cornmeal mixture.
I use tongs to lower the tomatoes, 3 at a time, into the hot oil and to remove them. Cook them about 1 minute on each side or until golden brown on both sides. If the tomato slices do not sizzle, the oil is probably not hot enough and will absorb too much oil and take too long to get brown on the outside. This also causes the tomatoes to overcook and become mushy. Drain the tomatoes on paper towels.
The digital infrared thermometers are a valuable tool in my kitchen. You can find them at hardware stores as well as online.