Chef Ryan Trimm is known as the go-to guy in Memphis for a true taste of Low Country cooking. After all, he spent his most formative training years as a student at Johnson & Wales’ satellite campus in Charleston, SC, followed by time working under that city’s Chef Frank Lee at Slightly North of Broad.
Ryan opened Sweet Grass, his own homage to Low Country cooking, in 2010. Memphians were instantly wowed with his cuisine, our personal favorite being his to-die-for shrimp and grits, which combine white Gulf shrimp, grits from Hanna Farm, Tripp Family country ham and Ryan’s own housemade sausage. Sweet Grass was such a success that Ryan and business partner Glenn Hays opened Sweet Grass Next Door, known by most as simply Next Door, in 2011.
The more casual Next Door is home to Ryan’s fried green tomato BLT, a sandwich that turned this not-so-adventurous eater into a huge fan of fried green tomatoes — and that’s saying something.
“I’m a sandwich guy,” says Ryan, who perfected the recipe for the FGTBLT over the years, adding a sweet pepper relish and eventually having his baker create the buckwheat honey bread that he uses for this mouthwatering masterpiece of Southern sandwich-ness.
When it comes to general sandwich philosophy, Ryan says a thick slice of bread is essential. “Too thin, it just kind of falls apart,” he says, joking that, especially for his BLT, there’s just too much going on and, “you need that casing to transfer it to your mouth.”
The uninitiated may not know that a green tomato is not a special type of fruit — it’s simply an unripe tomato. He advises using any kind of nicely sized slicing tomato and notes that tomatoes can be tricky, especially when it comes to breading and frying them. “Because they are so moist, when we slice them, we lay them out on a roasting rack so some of the moisture comes off of them.” He also says the goal isn’t to cook the tomato, as it will turn to mush. “You’re just trying to get a crispy crust. You want it to stay a little firm on the inside,” says Ryan.
What makes the FGTBLT from Next Door so scrumptious (as if the combination of fried green tomatoes, bacon and homemade bread isn’t delicious enough) is the housemade sweet pepper relish that is the finishing touch. “We don’t put mayo on it,” says Ryan. “We serve it with a side of ranch.”
A focus on housemade ingredients is one of Ryan’s hallmarks; his crew makes just about everything that can be made in a kitchen for both restaurants, including all the bread, all the desserts, the soups, sauces and condiments. “Guests may not notice, but for us, it makes us prideful of what we do. It’s more fun if you can do it from scratch and understand what you’re making,” says Ryan. He admits this creates a lot of work for his kitchen staff. “At the end of the day, it’s worth it. It’s what keeps our customers coming back.”
Without further ado, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. The recipe!
Chef Ryan Trimm’s Fried Green Tomato BLT
- 1 cup seasoned all-purpose flour (season with 2 tablespoons Old Bay, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons salt, 2 teaspoons garlic powder and 1 tablespoon granulated onion)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup cornmeal, seasoned with red pepper flakes and combined with 1/4 C flour
- Canola oil for frying
- 3 medium green tomatoes, sliced to ¼-inch thickness
- 8 slices thick wheat bread
- Lettuce, leafy romaine or spring mix
- 12 strips of applewood-smoked bacon, cooked crisp
- Sweet Grass / Next Door pepper relish ($7, sold at the restaurants)
- Ranch dressing
- Use three shallow dishes for breading the tomatoes, with the seasoned flour in the first dish. Whisk the eggs and 2 Tablespoons water together in a second shallow dish, then combine the cornmeal, additional flour and red pepper flakes in the third dish.
- Heat about an inch of oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Dredge the tomato slices in the flour mixture, dip slices in the egg mixture and then dredge again in the cornmeal mixture.
- Fry the tomatoes until the crust is golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.
- Toast or pan fry the bread, then layer the lettuce and three slices of bacon on one side, and the three tomato slices on the other. Top the tomatoes with pepper relish, and finish off with the second piece of bread. Serve with ranch dressing on the side.
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