THIS, my maritime friends, is how the South does brunch on the hook. Tangy, juicy, late-spring, homegrown green tomatoes coated in a Parmesan crust and fried up in bacon grease, dipped in a zesty mock hollandaise sauce, with a main-course-sized side of Applewood smoked bacon. It’s like a BLT, but without that pesky lettuce, and trying to hold the good between the bread. Perfect midday meal at anchor off Pensacola this week…a transition, if you will, from paddling in the crystal clear and warm Gulf surf to napping in the shade, cooled by an offshore breeze.
A young Australian friend recently chortled to me that “only Americans and Australians know how to do brunch!” This, as we sat over bowls of buckwheat groats, harissa, avocado and sprouts with a poached egg at an Australian restaurant in London. It was a delicious snack, but I couldn’t help but think “Child, if this is what you call ‘brunch’, you need ta git y’alls some south in yo mouth!”
Fried Green Tomatoes With Mock Hollandaise
For the sauce:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of white pepper
Juice and rind of one lemon
For the tomatoes:
1 lb Applewood smoked bacon
1 to 1-1/2 lbs green tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
2/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
If you are a newcomer to the Southern way of life and still adjusting, you can certainly fry your tomatoes in oil instead of the bacon grease. Just don’t tell me (or do, and give me your leftover bacon grease). Also, if you get a hankering for these off-season, Captain Peter does a fine rendition of them using tomatillos instead of tomatoes.
To start, fry your bacon and make your mock hollandaise. This sauce is one of my treasured recipes from my mom; it’s honestly not much like regular hollandaise…I think we call it that because you use it in a lot of the same ways. My mom uses it like a traditional hollandaise on top of a poached egg, Canadian bacon slice, and toasted English muffin for the most delicious Eggs Benedict you’ve ever had (other than Pirate Caroline’s Soft-shelled Crab Benediction). That said, it is WAY more versatile than true hollandaise. I make a double batch of it most weeks and just keep it in the icebox. It’s fantastic on warm or cold fish and chicken and on many steamed vegetables like artichokes, asparagus, and broccoli. The bright, citrusy flavor basically makes grocery store mayonnaise something special. Combine the mayonnaise, milk, salt and pepper in a small saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring regularly, just until heated — about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in the lemon juice and rind. When your bacon is done to your taste, remove to paper towels to drain, but leave behind all the drippings you can.
Slice the tomatoes into half-inch slices. If you’re cooking for the Queen, go ahead and discard the end slices, as they won’t take the coating on one side very well. But if you’re on a 10-day Gulf cruise without access to provisions, you know you don’t waste a THING — sort of pare off as much of the skin as you can from that end piece and use it anyway!
Spread the tomato slices in a colander over the sink and salt them well. Let them sit and drain while you finish the sauce and bacon. This will take some of the liquid out and make the breading stick better. If they don’t all fit, just layer/salt/layer/repeat. After 10 minutes or so, give them a quick rinse or use a paper towel to dust most of the salt off.
Next, set up your breading station: in one bowl, mix the flour with (salt and) pepper, to taste. Because I salt my tomatoes in the prior step, I just use about 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Beat the eggs in a second bowl, and mix the bread crumbs and Parmesan in a third dish. You might keep some oil on hand during the next stage in case the bacon grease runs too low for frying.
Working quickly (make sure the Captain isn’t up the mast in the Bosun’s Chair and about to need winching down), dip each tomato slice first in flour to cover both sides, then submerge in egg and let excess run off briefly, then in bread crumbs, pressing crumb mixture onto both sides to coat as thickly as you can. Lay slices in hot grease in a single, uncrowded layer.
When one side of each slice is golden brown — about 2-3 minutes — turn and brown the other side, then remove to paper towels and refill the pan. Here’s a tip…for the breading process, use one hand for the flour and egg, switching to the other for the breadcrumbs and placement in/removal from the pan. That right hand is going to get pretty gummy with egg and flour paste and keeping the left clean enough to handle the finished product will be welcome!
Serve the tomatoes and bacon with the hollandaise for dipping. No plates or utensils necessary–the ones I set out came back down the companionway unused! Though napkins are a good idea. If you’re going to a chic yacht party, you might undercook the bacon a bit, then wrap a piece around each tomato slice and secure with a toothpick and a dollop of hollandaise for a hifalutin’ appetizer. If you’re at anchor off the Gulf and watching the Sunfish pull onto the deserted white sand shore off your starboard beam…don’t bother…it’s almost nap time.