Learn the recipe secrets to making classic Fried Green Tomatoes that are both tender and crisp; with all the traditional corn flavor, but without the grit! Ready to serve in less than 30 minutes!
What's the Story behind this Recipe?
With all my Southern roots, it's hard to believe that there was a time in my life when the only fried green tomatoes I knew of were the ones at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Then late one summer shortly after Mr B and I got hitched, we went over to his Mom’s for dinner, and she served up a plate of what looked like thick, green-tinged dollar-pancakes as part of a big family feast.
Mom’s Fried Green Tomatoes are as simple as they come. Dipped in pancake batter and pan-fried to a golden brown, they were delicious in a way I never expected.
Ever since that first plate of fried green tomatoes years ago, I’ve made it a point to sample every fried green tomato I run across. My ultimate goal: to develop a batter recipe that results in fried tomatoes that are both tender and crisp; with the traditional corn flavor and crunchy bite, but without the grit.
The Surprising Un-Southern History of Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes are as synonymous with Southern cooking as black-eyed peas and pecan pie, so it surprised me to learn that "fried green tomatoes are not a Southern dish, but originated in the Midwest and northeast, possibly linked to the cuisine of Jewish immigrants."
Crazy, huh?!? According to research done by food writer and culinary historian Robert F. Moss [Charleston, South Carolina], the earliest recipe found appear in the 1889 edition of “Aunt Babette’s Cook Book”. Moreover, Moss found eleven fried green tomato recipes published in newspapers between 1900 and 1919 - all in Midwestern and northern cities. None were published in Southern newspapers.
What Goes into this Recipe
Green tomatoes: Look for large, mature tomatoes that are still green, but would ripen if you put them on your windowsill for a week or two.
Immature tomatoes (i.e., those that would not ripen under any circumstances) can be tough and too acidic, at least for our tastes.
Look for meaty tomatoes with very little jelly around the seeds, like those from Beefsteak or Heirloom varieties. Very juicy tomatoes (i.e., Romas, etc.) are not as well suited for frying. Generally, tomatoes used for fried green tomatoes should be firm, with no hint of color. That said, I find that a slight pink tinge in the tomato's center works just fine.
Paprika: Paprika choice can dramatically influence the flavor of your tomatoes. I prefer using a mild smoked paprika. If you want a little more heat, use a hotter paprika.
Three Secrets to Crispy, Grit-free Green Tomato Breading
Like Southern fried chicken, fried green tomatoes are traditionally breaded in three steps: a flour dredge, a wet dip, and a final dry breading coating.
What I learned, sampling fried green tomatoes over the years is, the breading makes or breaks the recipe.
Not enough seasoning and they fall flat; too much, and you lose that smooth green-tomato punch. Too much cornmeal and you’re crunching driveway gravel; not enough and both flavor and crunch are sacrificed.
Lacking a living Southern granny, it probably took me a little more trial and error than it should have, but I finally cracked the code on the perfect crispy, crunchy, tender fried green tomato breading.
1. Trade Masa Harina for Cornmeal
Cornmeal is a constant in nearly every fried green tomato recipe you'll find. In the South, fine white cornmeal is most often used. It is, however, difficult to find fine white cornmeal on store shelves here in the Pacific Northwest, so I usually use fine yellow cornmeal.
Some years ago at the end of the tomato season, we had a basket of green tomatoes. I decided to try to make a green tomato recipe without cornmeal, substituting in masa harina instead.
Masa harina is the traditional flour used to make tortillas, tamales, and other Mexican dishes. (I used to think it was just very finely ground cornmeal, but I was way off there.)
Masa harina is made from field corn, which is dried and treated with a mixture of lime and water, loosening the hulls and softening the corn. The soaked corn (i.e., hominy) is then washed and ground into a dough, called masa. In a final step, the masa is dried and powdered, and the resulting powder is masa harina.
Recipes often warn against using masa harina in place of cornmeal, because the two products are made from different kinds of corn and produce different results. (Generally, I follow this guidance.)
The texture of yellow cornmeal grit in fried green tomato batter is the one thing I've never liked. Even finely ground yellow cornmeal results in a gravelly texture that we're not so excited about.
Masa harina overcomes this issue – no more grit! Mr B and I agree, like fine white cornmeal, masa harina lends a subtle corn flavor to the batter, while making for a smooth, pleasant mouthfeel. Moreover, the masa harina seems to enhance the crisp-factor, even more so than does the fine white cornmeal.
It makes sense that masa harina, essentially pre-cooked corn flour, would contribute to the batter crispiness of fried foods.
Interestingly, the other two major breading components in this fried green tomato recipe – Wondra flour and Panko crumbs – are also both “pre-cooked.”
2. Substitute Wondra for All-purpose Flour
As with the process for making masa harina, Wondra is finely ground flour that has been pre-cooked and dried. Ultra-light, Wondra is lower in protein and gluten than all-purpose flour, which all translates into a light and crispy crust for fried foods.
Often called instant flour, Wondra dissolves more quickly than all-purpose flour, and mixes into both hot and cold liquids easily. This makes it particularly useful for making smooth, creamy, lump-free sauces and gravies as well.
You can use all-purpose flour in place of the Wondra in this recipe, but your results may not be as crispy.
3. Use Panko Breadcrumbs
Panko crumbs are the third and final "pre-cooked" addition to the breading mix. The texture of panko makes it especially suited for fried food because it absorbs less oil than regular breadcrumbs, keeping food more crisp and crunchy.
How to Make this Recipe
Bread the Tomatoes
Slice green tomatoes ¼ inch thick.
If you like your fried tomatoes more crispy, slice them just a little thinner. If you like them more meaty, slice them a little thicker.
Prepare three bowls (or pie plates) as follows:
- Bowl 1: Mix Wondra, paprika, and garlic salt.
- Bowl 2: Whisk together eggs and buttermilk.
- Bowl 3: Mix Wondra, masa harina, panko crumbs, kosher salt, white pepper, and paprika.
Dip each tomato slice first into the flour mixture in Bowl 1, coating both sides. Then dip into Bowl 2, and finally into bowl 3. Gently shake off any excess breading mixture, and place the coated tomato on a plate.
Continue breading tomato slices until all are coated. Place on plate or cooling rack until all tomatoes have been breaded. Avoid stacking or overlapping breaded tomatoes too much before you fry them.
Preheat the Skillet
NOTE: We’ve made fried green tomatoes multiple times in both a cast iron and an electric skillet. While both work fine, we much prefer using an electric skillet for this recipe, as it allows the oil to maintain a far more consistent temperature.
Safety first: Always make sure that the work surface you are frying on is stable.
Add the oil to a large, heavy skillet until it is ⅛-¼ inch deep. We suggest using a combination of canola and soybean oil (or straight canola oil) for frying.
Preheat oil in skillet to 350°F | 171°C. Drop it down a few degrees to about 335° | 168°C when the tomatoes are actively frying. This process offsets the temperature drop that occurs when the tomatoes are added to the oil.
If you don’t have an electric skillet or a kitchen thermometer, the easiest and safest method of determining whether your oil is ready to fry is to stick the end of a wooden spoon in it. If you see many bubbles form around the wood, the oil is ready for frying. If it is aggressively bubbling, reduce the heat and let it cool off a bit.
Fry the Tomatoes
When you are ready to fry the tomatoes, reduce the skillet temperature to 335° | 168°C, and use a fork to gently slide each breaded tomato into preheated oil.
Fry the breaded tomatoes for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown on one side.
Using tongs or a fork, carefully flip and fry for another 3 minutes, or until dark golden brown.
Remove from hot oil and allow to drain on a wire rack. Sprinkle with kosher salt to taste.
How to Serve Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes are equally tasty and delicious served hot, room temperature, or cold out of the fridge at midnight.
We think the best way to serve up fried green tomatoes is warm, stacked on a heaping plate, accompanied by the dipping sauce of your choice.
And now for something Completely Different!
A few years back, Mr. B and I stopped in at the Montana Rib & Chop House in Billings, Montana. When we opened the menu, right there between the Calamari and the Chicken Fingers were some crazy sounding Fried Green Tomatoes – with blue cheese, crab and a balsamic reduction.
I know, I know – somewhere in the South, someone just died a little inside. (Mr B’s Granny would roll over in her grave!) But I kid you not, the flavor combination is amazing!
Expert Tips & FAQs
Electric Skillet or Cast Iron?
We’ve made fried green tomatoes multiple times in both a cast iron and an electric skillet. While both work fine, we much prefer using an electric skillet for this recipe, as it allows for a far more consistent temperature throughout the cooking process.
The best way to tell a mature green tomato from an immature green tomato is by the seeds. If the seeds are flat and white, the tomato is not mature.
If the seeds are full and look mature, the tomato is a perfect candidate for frying. Mature green tomatoes will result in the sweetest, most tender fried green tomatoes.
I want to say yes - I really do! There are so many truly tasty recipes that work out great in an air-fryer (our Perfect Soft-Boiled Scotch Eggs, and Crispy Sauerkraut Fritters, for example).
Unfortunately, we just can't recommend this recipe be cooked in an air fryer. We've tried, multiple times, and they are just not the same.
For crisp frying, the oil must maintain a consistent temperature between 325°-340°F | 162°-171°C throughout the cooking process.
We preheat our electric skillet to 350F° | 177°C, and then drop it downto about 335° when the tomatoes are actively frying. This process helps to offset the natural temperature drop that occurs when the tomatoes are added to the oil.
If the temperature of the oil rises above about 340°F, the tomatoes will cook too quickly. When fried at the correct temperature, the tomatoes will come out golden brown, having absorbed very little oil.
If you don’t have an electric skillet or a kitchen thermometer, the easiest and safest method of determining whether your oil is ready to fry is to stick the end of a wooden spoon in it.
If you see many bubbles form around the wood, the oil is ready for frying. If it is aggressively bubbling, reduce the heat and let it cool off a bit.
Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes
- 1 electric skillet or cast iron skillet
- 1 Tongs
- 4 large firm green tomatoes about 1 pound after slicing
- ¼ cup canola oil for frying
BOWL 2: Dip
- 2 eggs
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- Slice green tomatoes ¼ inch thick. If you prefer your fried green tomatoes super-crispy, slice them a little thinner.
Bread the Tomatoes
- Prepare three bowls (or pie plates) as follows: Bowl 1: Mix Wondra, paprika, and garlic salt. Bowl 2: Whisk together eggs and buttermilk.Bowl 3: Mix Wondra, masa harina, panko crumbs, kosher salt, white pepper, and paprika.
- Dip each tomato slice first into the flour mixture in Bowl 1, coating both sides. Then dip into bowl 2, and finally into bowl 3. Gently shake off any excess breading mixture, and place the coated tomato on a plate.
- Continue breading tomato slices until all are coated. Place on plate or cooling rack until all tomatoes have been breaded. DO NOT Stack or overlap breaded tomatoes before your fry them.
Preheat the Skillet
- Carefully prepare the area before you begin frying the battered tomatoes. Always make sure that the work surface you are frying on is stable. Add oil to skillet until it is ⅛-¼ inch deep. Preheat oil in skillet to 340° [171°C].For crisp frying, oil must maintain a temperature of 325-340F° [162°-171°C] throughout the cooking process.I usually set the temperature of my electric skillet to 350F° [177°C] when it’s heating up, and drop it down a few degrees to about 335° when the tomatoes are actively frying.
Fry the Tomatoes
- When you are ready to fry the tomatoes, reduce the skillet temperature to 335° | 168°C, and use a fork to gently slide each breaded tomato into preheated oil.
- Fry the breaded tomatoes for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown on one side.Using tongs or a fork, carefully flip and fry for another 3 minutes, or until dark golden brown.
- Remove from hot oil and allow to cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with kosher salt to taste.
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Post Updated September 16, 2021 (Originally published August 29, 2013)