There are some southern foods, like biscuits and corn pudding, that have gained such a heightened perfection in our minds that we shy away from them in the kitchen. Fried green tomatoes are like that. We know how we’ve been taught to like them – edges crisp and gritty with cornmeal, and tangy succulent bellies – and if we don’t know how to achieve this, then why make them at all?
So I confess. As a Yankee, I threw caution to the wind and bastardized the hell out of my green tomatoes. Instead of a flour or cornmeal coating, I went for a jagged cloak of panko and Parmesan, which crisped beautifully and tasted deliciously of toasted, nutty cheese. Although I did follow one Southern trick, learned from Beans, Greens, Sweet Georgia Peaches – to not only salt the tomatoes in advance, but also sugar them, too. Half an hour before cooking, you add this seasoning combo, which draws out some of the moisture and also balances the tart sting of a green tomato with a nod of sweetness. One last cheat: I turned to my non-stick pan over my cast-iron. I didn’t want even a crumb of the crust to be left attached to the pan and not in my mouth. —Amanda Hesser
medium green tomatoes, cored and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
large eggs, lightly beaten
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
olive oil, plus more if needed
unsalted butter, plus more if needed
Lay the tomato slices on a baking sheet and sprinkle generously (like you’re seasoning a steak) with both salt and sugar. Turn over the slices and season the other sides. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Have a large non-stick sauté pan on the stove. Add the beaten egg to a wide shallow bowl. Combine the panko and Parmesan in another wide shallow bowl. Set them near the stove. Lay the tomato slices on paper towel, top with another layer of paper towel and press on the tomatoes to dry them well. Season the slices again with a little salt. Working one at a time, dip the tomatoes in egg, then the panko-Parmesan mixture. Really press and pat the panko into the tomatoes. Set the tomatoes on a clean baking sheet.
Heat the sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil and butter. When the foam subsides, add the tomatoes, enough to cover the base of the pan in a single layer. Let them be for a few minutes and when you see browning on the egde, check the tomatoes. You want a nut brown crust. Turn them and brown the other side. Keep working in batches, adding more oil and butter to the pan as needed, and transfer the tomatoes to a warm serving platter. Grind (coarsely!) fresh pepper on top, sprinkle with extra cheese, and serve!
Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.