Food & Drink

Summer’s Tastiest Salad

Inspired by succotash and topped off with crispy bacon, meet the ultimate tomato salad

photo: William Hereford


When chef Chris Hastings puts the tomato salad back on the menu at Birmingham, Alabama’s Hot and Hot Fish Club each year, locals take notice. “The phones start ringing off the hook. People come out of the woodwork,” Hastings says. “It’s like the opening of football season.”

It all started with a family recipe. Hastings adored his mother’s succotash, but found it too hot and heavy to serve during the sticky summer months when tomatoes and other key ingredients are in season. So, after more than a year of experimentation, he transformed it into a refreshing room-temperature salad that would become his new restaurant’s signature dish. Nearly two decades later, the tomato salad is the only thing on the Hot and Hot menu that has not changed a bit. “Everything else goes through some kind of evolution,” Hastings says. “The tomato salad is, honestly, a perfect dish. It’s amazing how it resonates with people.”

To keep the salad going through the summer, the chef and his crew follow the tomato season from the Florida Panhandle, where the first tomatoes appear in May, up to northern Alabama and the Carolinas at the end of the summer. They buy late-season tomatoes until the end of September, when Hastings drops the salad and gives the menu over to fall favorites like pumpkins, muscadines, scuppernongs, and persimmons.

Right now, heirloom tomatoes are in season all over the South. Start your own yearly tradition with Hot and Hot’s most popular recipe.


Ingredients

  • Hot and Hot Tomato Salad

    • 6 large beefsteak tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices

    • 2 large Golden Delight tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices

    • 2 large Rainbow tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices

    • 1/2 pint Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes

    • 3/4 cup plus 3 tbsp. balsamic vinaigrette (recipe follows), divided

    • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

    • 3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning

    • 1 smoked ham hock

    • 1 large onion, peeled and quartered

    • 1 fresh thyme sprig

    • 1 cup fresh field peas, such as black-eye, pink-eye, crowder, or butter beans

    • 3 ears yellow corn, husks and silks removed

    • 2 tbsp. peanut oil

    • 4 cups vegetable oil

    • 30 pieces baby okra, trimmed just under the cap

    • 1/4 cup buttermilk

    • 1/4 cup corn flour

    • 1/4 cup cornmeal

    • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

    • 6 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cooked until crisp

    • 3/4 cup chive dressing (recipe follows)

    • 6 tbsp. chiffonade of fresh basil

  • Balsamic Vinaigrette

    • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    • 1/2 cup olive oil

    • 1 cup finely chopped fresh chives

    • 1 cup balsamic vinegar

    • 1/2 cup chopped green onions

    • Kosher salt, to taste

    • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Chive Dressing

    • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely minced

    • 6 tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives

    • 1 large egg yolk

    • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

    • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

    • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • 1 cup olive oil

    • 1/4 cup crème fraîche


Preparation

  1. For the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad: Toss tomatoes with ¾ cup of balsamic vinaigrette. Sprinkle with 1½ teaspoons salt and ¾ teaspoon pepper and marinate at room temperature until ready to serve.

  2. Combine the ham hock, onion, thyme, and field peas in a medium stockpot with enough cold water to cover. Bring peas to a simmer and cook until just tender, about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, drain, and cool. Discard ham hock, onion quarters, and thyme sprig. Place cooled peas in a mixing bowl and set aside.

  3. Shave the kernels off the corncobs. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the corn and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Season kernels with salt and pepper to taste, then remove pan from heat and let cool slightly. Toss the corn kernels with the cooked field peas and the remaining 3 tablespoons of vinaigrette; set aside.

  4. To fry the okra, pour vegetable oil into a deep-sided skillet to a depth of 3 inches and heat to 350˚F. Place okra pods in a small bowl with the buttermilk. Toss until well coated. Combine the corn flour, cornmeal, all-purpose flour, salt, and pepper in a medium-size bowl. Drain the okra and toss in the cornmeal mixture. Shake off any excess coating, and fry in hot oil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden. Drain pods on a paper towel-lined plate, and season with salt and pepper if needed.

  5. To assemble the saladarrange tomato slices on 6 plates and surround with whole cherry tomatoes. Top with even spoonfuls of pea and corn mixture. Arrange 5 pieces of fried okra around each plate, and place a slice of crispy bacon on top of each salad. Finish each stack with a drizzle of 1 to 2 tablespoons of chive dressing; garnish with 1 tablespoon of basil chiffonade per plate. Serve immediately.

  6. For the Balsamic Vinaigrette: Whisk together all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Be sure to bring the chilled vinaigrette to room temperature and whisk well before serving.

  7. For the Chive Dressing: Combine the garlic and chives in small bowl. Add egg yolk, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and whisk to combine. Add the olive oil in a thin, steady stream while vigorously whisking. Next, whisk in the crème fraîche. (You may need to add a drop or two of water if dressing is too thick.) Cover and chill the dressing for at least 20 minutes before serving. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Recipe by Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama.


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