The Best Fried Green Tomatoes I Ever Ate

For Chelsea Manquero, who spent time here last week with her partner Dax as they helped me put the gardens to bed, there was a happy connection between fried green tomatoes and her grandmother. Not because her grandmother made them but because her grandmother always loved to get them at a favorite restaurant the family frequented. So when I moaned about how many green tomatoes I was afraid we’d end up with this year, Chelsea decided to fry some up.

I’ve made fried green tomatoes and I thought they were alright, but when I ate Chelsea’s I thought, “These are the best I’ve ever eaten.” I suspect the terrific flavor is attributable to buttermilk beaten with egg to dip tomato slices into, seasoned cornmeal to dredge them in, and enough oil to create a terrifically crisp exterior. Then she gilded the lily by making a “popping” aioli: mayo, mustard, black pepper, cayenne, turmeric, and lemon juice.

Who wouldn’t, of course, prefer a ripe tomato to a green one? Still, if there are green ones, and this year I am not the only gardener who will end up with a few more than we might like, then this is an awfully good way to make use of them. But before we begin to fry them, let’s ponder what to do with green tomatoes.

You can try ripening them. There is the old trick of putting them in a bag with an apple which aids ripening, though some sources say a banana works more quickly. (Bananas also spoil more quickly.) Some pull them up and hang them upside down in a warmish dry place. If the plants are still outdoors, you can slash the foliage; take the tops off the plant and remove leaves. That more or less scares the tomatoes into ripening.

So just before a frost, you and I are tempted to rush out and pick as many green tomatoes as we can. Then what? There is green tomato relish, which is lovely stuff if you like that sort of relish. There is green tomato mincemeat of which, I suspect, a little goes a very long way. You can also make half-sour pickled tomatoes with garlic and salt. Look it up for instructions for this fermented pickle. I’ve failed colossally two or three times to do this so I do not venture advice.

If you have a good green tomato recipe to share, please send it along and I will attempt it for the purposes of sharing here.

Chelsea’s aioli was mildly zippy and a wonderful accompaniment. She used cayenne as her main capsicum source, paprika and a dash or two of turmeric. “Six cranks of black pepper,” a “forkful of Dijon mustard” and a “dribble of olive oil,” so you can see that she is fairly freewheeling and mainly works to taste. The recipe below attempts to outline the basic sauce, but it is wise to sample as you go and adjust everything to your own taste.

I ate Chelsea’s fried green tomatoes hot out of the pan with a dab of aioli on them and Dax and Chelsea stacked theirs, adorned them with aioli, topped the stack with some corn relish and a couple shaves of cheddar cheese. It was showy and tasted very good. I believe they posted it on Instagram but they are young enough to know how to do that. All I did was eat.

P.S. A follow-up on Oatcakes: a reader got in touch to say she was surprised to see no liquid, and that when she mixed them they did not clean the bowl as I said they would. There is indeed no liquid. My advice is to knead the dough slightly to get it to come together well enough to pat out for cutting. Think shortbread.

Looking for…Pompadour Pudding. This is a custard topped with a chocolatey meringue that Joyce Cornwell in Lamoine inquired about. She made some recently because her husband enjoyed it as a kind of comfort food growing up, and she wrote to ask, “Have you eaten this and/or made it? Do any of your food friends make it? I’m really curious what you might add.” I’d never even heard of it, but maybe one of you has and might have something to share.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Popping Aioli
Serves: 2-3
  • Fried Tomatoes
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup flour divided into two ¼ cup amounts
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne, to taste
  • Paprika to taste
  • Dash of turmeric
  • 3 medium green tomatoes sliced about one-third of an inch thick
  • Olive Oil
  • Chelsea’s Aioli
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • A squeeze of lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne
  • Dash of turmeric
  1. To Fry Tomatoes
  2. Combine egg and buttermilk and put into a shallow bowl or pie plate
  3. Whisk together ¼ cup of flour with cornmeal, salt and pepper, cayenne, paprika, and turmeric and put into a shallow bowl.
  4. Place remaining ¼ cup flour in a shallow bowl.
  5. Heat about a half inch of olive oil in a heavy fry pan and set over a medium heat.
  6. Dredge each slice of tomato first in flour, then dip it in the edge mixture, then in the cornmeal mixture.
  7. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle when you add a sprinkle of flour, add each tomato slice and fry on both sides for two to three minutes or until they are golden and have a crisp exterior.
  8. Drain on paper towels and keep hot, sprinkle with salt and eat or serve with the aioli.
  9. To make aioli
  10. Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl, sample and adjust seasonings.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.