Welcome back to Dirty Work, our series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden. We're inviting chefs, bartenders, and personalities in the world of food and drink to explore our edible playground and make whatever the hell inspires them with our rooftop produce.
When chef Doug Adams of Portland, Oregon's Bullard and Abigail Hall stops by the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen, our roof garden is full of tomatoes. Late summer has been good to us in Brooklyn, and tomatoes are still having their moment. "You want to do some fried green tomatoes?" he says as he picks hefty green heirlooms, scrapping his original idea of working with Swiss chard. We can't say no to that.
Adams grabs dill, cucumbers, chile peppers, and a bunch of sungold tomatoes before we head back inside. Perfect produce doesn't need a lot of work, so this dish will be easy. He'll make fried green tomatoes, topped with quick-pickled peppers and a light, cucumber salad. The goal is, basically, to put late summer on a plate.
Recipe: Easy Fried Green Tomatoes
"These tomatoes are so perfect right now for frying," Adams says, slicing the tomatoes into thick rounds. What you want for fried green tomatoes are plump green tomatoes with a little give; the tomato shouldn't feel delicate or like it's about to burst, but it shouldn't be super firm either. After cutting them, he marinades the tomatoes in buttermilk mixed with spicy, housemade jalapeño sauce that he's brought along from Bullard. At home, jalapeño jelly is just fine.
After the tomatoes have marinated for about 20 minutes, they'll get battered, and since they'll be wet with buttermilk anyway, there's no need for eggs before dredging. We might be frying tomatoes today, but Adams tells us that the trick to making them tasty is using a seasoned breading like what he'd use for chicken. "Always coriander, cayenne, and some Korean red chili," he says. He mixes the spices into a base of all-purpose and rice flour, "like a real simple fried chicken breading."
As he cooks, Adams tells us that things are especially exciting in his life right now. At the moment, he helms two kitchens. At Bullard, described as "where Texas meats Oregon," he makes food inspired by his Texas hometown of the same name. Meanwhile, at the Woodlark Hotel's Abigail Hall, Adams serves his take on classic American bar snacks, including a dry-aged beef double cheeseburger that Adams has brought along for us to try. "I flew across the country with American cheese for you," he jokes.
But after years of constant restaurant work and a role on season 12 of Top Chef, the chef is finally making time for other things. "[My wife] is teaching me balance… how to not just live at my restaurant," Adams says. That'll be especially useful this fall: in November, he and his wife, a brewmaster at Portland's Ten Barrel, are expecting a baby. "A little girl. I can already hear myself saying yes to everything. 'You wanna go to Jackson Hole and go fishing while dad goes fly fishing?'"
That time will go by faster than we think—just like this easy dish. Before he finishes the tomatoes, Adams gets the other vegetables ready. In a saucepan, he simmers apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar, and dill stems. Once everything is dissolved, the mixture goes over sliced peppers and onions in a sturdy plastic container; it'll sit for a bit until the peppers pick up some flavor. Then, he makes a quick vinaigrette by heating up some honey with pickle brine, dill, and a little more jalapeño sauce. He dices a cucumber and halves some sungolds, and tosses them in olive oil and lemon juice.
With everything prepped, Adams fries the tomatoes. He drops them gently into a deep Dutch oven full of hot oil and cooks them until they're golden brown on both sides. After letting the cooked tomatoes sit for a second on a paper towel, he plates them up. The perfectly fried rounds of tomato go on a plate, followed by the cucumber and tomato salad, a dash of pickled peppers, and a generous drizzle of the sweet and tangy honey vinaigrette. A few carefully placed borage flowers add a hint of color to the already bright and summery dish.
If you haven't already eaten all the season's best tomatoes, save a few of the green ones, and cook them up like this. "Leave it to the asshole from Texas to go the garden and then deep fry it," Adams jokes. Hey, we've got no complaints about that.