THIS is the tomato salad that beats all other tomato salads in a battle. Fact. No other tomato salad even comes close. You can keep your Caprese. This is the one I dream about all winter long.
If you live anywhere near Margate, NJ, you know I’m talking about Steve and Cookie’s famous “Ugly Tomato Salad.” Steve and Cookie’s is one of my all-time-favorite restaurants in the area. It’s classic, but modern; upscale but comfortable, and the food, service, and ambiance are all amazing. They just do everything right, and they manage to do so consistently. That’s not an easy task, but somehow they make it look like it is.
This salad is not part of the regular menu, but it starts making a special appearance every year around Memorial Day, and it stays on as long as the tomatoes are in season. It’s comprised of only the sweetest, meatiest, most flavorful in-season tomatoes, which is why it’s only offered for a limited time. They slice ’em thick, then arrange them on a plate with creamy blue cheese, fresh basil, and a slightly sweet, but well-balanced sherry vinaigrette. The whole thing then gets showered with a mound of crunchy fried shallots. The balance of flavors and textures is mind blowing, and it never, ever, ever disappoints.
What is disappointing, however, is how ungodly crowded the restaurant gets during the summer. Even on a Monday night at 5pm, the place is absolutely packed, which keeps most locals away until the season settles down… aka, right now. But right now is also when my garden is vomiting tomatoes like there’s no end, so it’s hard to justify going out for a tomato salad when I have so many of them sitting on my counter. So instead, I learned to make the salad myself.
It’s fairly simple and mostly relies on excellent quality ingredients: perfectly in-season heirloom tomatoes, creamy blue cheese (I love Maytag), fresh basil, sherry vinegar, a touch of local raw honey, flaky sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and really good extra virgin olive oil. Truth be told, sometimes I’ll just make the vinaiagrette, toss it with the tomatoes, basil, and cheese, and call it a day.
But what truly makes this salad special is the fried shallots. They add such lovely textural contrast and caramelized oniony flavor. They’re also what makes this salad a little more complicated to make at home, which is why, if you’re local, you should just go to Steve and Cookies and have them make it for you.
That said, if you’re not local, or if you have lots of heirloom tomatoes lying around like me, you should really consider putting in the effort. I know some people who cheat and use the canned fried onions (yep, the ones that go on green bean casserole), but personally I feel that’s doing the tomatoes a major disservice.
Deep frying anything at home is a major commitment, mostly because you need to be okay with your house smelling like hot oil for up to 24 hours. It’s best to save it for a day when the weather is comfortable enough to have the windows open – cue September. The fried shallots will stay crisp at room temperature for at least a few hours, so you can make them well in advance of serving (and let your house air out for a bit in the meantime).
I’ve actually found the fried shallots hold up pretty well for a few days, as long as they’re kept in an air-tight container at room temperature with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Then they can be recrisped in the oven (or toaster oven) for a few minutes with very good results. Freezing could also be an option, though I’ve never had enough leftover to try.
For this reason, I suggest making a bigger batch of them then needed for the recipe. Not only will you not be able to stop snacking on them, you’ll have some leftover to make this salad again a few days later (and trust me, you will absolutely want to).
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- 3 medium shallots, peeled, halved, and sliced lengthwise (not too thin)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- salt and pepper
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- grapeseed or vegetable oil for frying
- 1 small shallot, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- flaky sea salt (such as Maldon or sell gris)
- freshly cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 very large or 4 smaller heirloom tomatoes, cut into thick slices or wedges
- 4 ounces creamy blue cheese (recommended: Maytag)
- fresh basil, torn
- fried shallots
- Combine the shallots with buttermilk, salt, and pepper, then set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, corn starch, salt, and pepper. Fill a medium pot with oil about 1 inch up the sides, then place over medium-high heat.
- Test the oil by sprinkling a little bit of flour in it. The flour should immediately sizzle and start to brown, but not burn. If using a thermometer, it should read between 350-375 degrees.
- Drain the shallots, then working in batches, coat them in the flour mixture, then drop them into the hot oil. Move them around for a few minutes, flipping if necessary, until golden brown. Remove fried shallots with a spider or slotted spoon, then place on paper towels to drain.
- Whisk together minced shallots, honey, sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil until emulsified.
- Arrange tomatoes on a large platter, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, then pour dressing over. Crumble blue cheese on top and sprinkle with basil. Shower with a mound of fried shallots and serve immediately.
- I recommend doubling or tripling fried shallots to use at a later time. You will not need to double the flour/corn starch mixture or buttermilk, only the actual shallots. Keep fried shallots in an airtight container with a paper towel to absorb moisture, at room temperature, for up to 5 days. Recrisp in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes before serving.