July 14, 2014
Tomatoes from Jones Valley Teaching Farm's Produce Stand
The Okra Chopping "Station"
Okra Fried to Perfection
Tomatoes Marinating in Balsamic Vinaigrette
The Completed Project
Jennifer Hagler Photography
By Buffy York
My mother grew tomatoes in our backyard and said she didn’t raise me right because I would not eat a tomato sandwich. She would talk about how delicious a homegrown tomato was on soft white bread with salt, pepper and mayonnaise. I could not imagine anything worse. Maybe it was a texture thing but tomatoes were not for me. I am not a picky eater and will pretty much eat anything else other than liver, but I was a self proclaimed “Ralph Nader Mater Hater.” Not because I was a Libertarian or a consumer advocate fighting for the rights of fellow Mater Haters, but because it rhymed. One night during my single years when my parents were keeping my children I went on a “date night,” granted it was my friends John and Suzie McCullough’s date night, but I was a really fun third wheel. I tagged along with them to Chris and Idie Hasting’s Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham and they ordered the Tomato Salad to split. As I am turning my nose up at their selection John starts to tell me how, he too, was once a Mater Hater but this salad had converted him. I decided to give it a try. If nothing else I would enjoy the succotash, fried okra and bacon that accompanied this dish. A dish that is so famous it warrants its own email alerting fans that the tomatoes are “ready” to make their yearly debut on the Hot and Hot menu. One bite of this beautiful salad and I became a convert as well. I have since discovered that not all tomatoes are created equal and I am somewhat of a tomato snob. I’m not a grocery store tomato buyer. The tomatoes available at Pepper Place Market and the back of farmers’ beat up pick-ups and yes, my mama’s back yard are the best.
A few weeks ago on a Thursday night, Tim and I were talking with our friends Lauryn and Jim Walker and we decided that we wanted to go to Hot and Hot the next night. Well of course we weren’t getting a reservation on a Friday night with that late of notice. What were we thinking? Tomatoes are in season. But, we had worked ourselves into a Tomato Salad frenzy so Lauryn and I decided we were going to make it ourselves. We each own the Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook and we are both confident in our culinary skills. Why not give it a go? So the next day we each get out our cookbooks to divvy up the ingredient list and can’t help but notice that five pages are dedicated to this recipe and those pages do not include the vinaigrette or the chive dressing. We are not deterred by that or the fact that Chef Hasting’s is a James Beard Award winner and an Iron Chef winner (assisted by my hometown neighbor and friend “Little Bobby Mac” Rob McDaniel of the Spring House). I headed down to Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s Produce Stand and Lauryn headed over to Murphree’s Market and we met up that evening at her house with our fresh produce to start the cooking.
Here is what we learned: 1) When you sit down at Hot and Hot’s Chef’s Counter there is a reason you see an army of sous chefs and cooks busy as bees working to prepare your meals. This dish alone takes a village to prepare. Jennifer even had to put down her camera and fry the okra. 2) He may not be visable but know there is a very busy dishwasher in the back of Hot and Hot. Prepare for every bowl, pan and utensil in your kitchen to be used. 3) It was a fun undertaking and the end result was delicious but next time we will call 205-933-5474 and do so earlier than the night before we want our reservation.
For the recipe and to read more about Hot and Hot Fish Club’s famous Tomato Salad click here for an article from The Alabama Chanin Journal.