With a pinch of salt and yes, sugar, you can master the art of frying green tomatoes

By Patricia S York

A home-grown tomato is synonymous with everything that we love about Southern vegetables - fresh, tasty, and plentiful. Perhaps it was that abundance of produce that caused someone, years and years ago, to decide to cook a green tomato; no need to wait around for it to ripen when there were so many others on the vine. We will probably never know who it was that first sliced a green tomato, dredged it through seasoned cornmeal and tossed it in the frying pan. But we sure are grateful. Hot salted fried green tomatoes are a welcome sight on the breakfast table, lunch buffet or supper menu. Here are some easy tips to follow to help you serve up a crispy, golden batch of fried green tomatoes.

Is a Green Tomato Simply Unripe, or a Different Variety?

This is actually a very good question so don't feel embarrassed if you have ever asked it! There is a type of tomato that is green when fully ripe - it will have vertical stripes or other variations in the coloring, and will feel soft when you press it. An unripe tomato, which is what you use for making fried green tomatoes, will be pale green all over and feel very solid.

Choose Your Skillet

Cast-iron skillets are great, but any good, heavy skillet works fine. An electric skillet is also a good choice because it keeps an even heat, allowing the tomatoes to cook uniformly.

Salt – And Sugar – Before Frying

After slicing the green tomatoes, sprinkle the slices with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Green tomatoes are very acidic, and the sugar will balance the tartness and give them a nice depth of flavor. Let the tomatoes sit for a few minutes as you prepare the other ingredients, and then lightly blot the top surface of the tomatoes with a paper towel. Don't worry if you see a bite more moisture forming – this helps the breading adhere to the tomatoes.

Keep the Heat High

Make sure your oil has reached the desired temperature (usually 360° to 375°) before you put in the battered green tomatoes – the right temp is what makes them crisp and beautifully golden. If the oil is not hot enough, you end up with soggy-crusted, limp green tomatoes. If the oil is too hot, the outside will brown too quickly and your tomatoes won't be cooked all the way through. Keep your oil level shallow – you don't want to completely submerge the slices in the oil. For added flavor, add two to three tablespoons of bacon grease.

It's Ok to Double-Dip

While many recipes say to just dredge and dip once, it's ok to double dip. Green tomatoes will extrude juices when frying. Double dipping them in a batter creates a crisp exterior, and a perfectly-textured interior.

Drain Properly

When fried, remove the green tomato slices with a slotted spatula, drain on a double layer of paper towels, then transfer to a rack on a baking sheet. Some people like to salt the tomatoes once again at this point. Keep the fried green tomatoes warm in the oven while frying the rest. Do not cover the tomatoes or the crust will soften and become soggy. And do not stack the tomatoes on top of each other until they have cooled about 10 minutes, otherwise the ones on the bottom will become soggy.

Serving Suggestions

Fried green tomatoes make an excellent addition to the classic summer dish, the Southern vegetable plate. They also make really nice appetizers, served with ranch dressing. And of course, you just can't beat the Fried Green Tomato BLT.

Frying gets a really bad rap, but if you eat fried foods in moderation, you can enjoy a serving of fried green tomatoes without the guilt.