Despair sets in about now when you realize how far away Virginia’s tomato season is. And if there are no tomatoes growing, you can’t pluck a green one from the vine to fry it up in true Southern style. So we asked James Eckrosh of the Dog and Pig Show in Church Hill to get you through this cold season with a sandwich that evokes the tang of that fried green tomato and the slow, hot days of summer — all without the ingredient that’s impossible to obtain during the dreary days of winter.
Fried Winter BLT
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup rice vinegar
Salt, to taste
4 large tomatillos, husks removed and sliced (try to get three slices per tomatillo)
12 slices thick cut bacon, cooked
1 bunch collard greens, ribs removed and chiffonaded
2 tablespoons butter
4 torpedo-style rolls
1 package breading mix (Eckrosh uses House-Autry dry and wet chicken breading mixes, available at Martin’s, Kroger and Food Lion, or you can use your favorite instead)
Vegetable oil for frying
Mayonnaise, to taste
Whisk together the sugar, rice vinegar and 2 pinches of salt in a small bowl until dissolved. Put the tomatillo slices in a baking dish in a single layer and pour the mixture over top. Leave the tomatillos in the brine for an hour or so, flipping midway.
In the meantime, fill a Dutch oven or a wide cast-iron pan with vegetable oil deep enough to cover the tomatillos. Heat the oil to 375 degrees. Use a deep fryer or candy thermometer to check the temperature.
While the oil is heating, spread a generous layer of dry breading mix on a plate. Mix the wet breading according to the directions and smooth it in a shallow bowl. Shake off the tomatillo slices and dredge them in the dry breading, drop them in the wet breading, and then put back in the dry breading, coating both sides. Leave them there while you cook the collards.
Heat a sauté pan and add about 2 tablespoons of butter and sauté the collards until they wilt. Add a pinch of salt, toss and remove from the heat.
In the Dutch oven or cast-iron pan, fry the tomatillo slices until they’re golden brown. If you have a large enough pan and used enough oil, you can do them all at once. Otherwise, work in batches and avoid overcrowding. Remove the fried slices and place on paper towels to drain.
Butter the outside of the torpedo rolls, top and bottom. Grill them in a wide skillet or toast them in the oven. Slice the rolls all the way through and spread mayonnaise on both sides. Cover the bottom half of each of the rolls with collards, top with 3 tomatillo slices and add 3 bacon slices. Finish with the top half of the roll and enjoy!