These Buttermilk Fried Green Beans are inspired by a fabulous appetizer I once had at Magnolia Pub in San Francisco. The pub served them with a few sweet cherry tomatoes alongside as a tart and bracing accompaniment, and if you have some cherry tomatoes on hand, they're an excellent, albeit optional, addition.
Fellow food writer and crispy-treat lover Juliet Glass masterminded the method used here: a dip in buttermilk and then a dredge in spiced-up flour, just like the best fried chicken. The quick dip in hot oil keeps the coating crisp and brings out a remarkable sweetness in the green beans.
- Rinse and thoroughly dry the green beans. Trim off any tough ends and, if you happen to have beans that are true string beans with tough strings down their sides, be sure to pull those off. Put the beans in a medium bowl, pour in the buttermilk, and toss the beans with the buttermilk to coat them evenly.
- Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and cayenne in a large bowl or resealable plastic bag. Drain the green beans (or simply lift them out of the buttermilk) and toss them in the flour mixture to coat them thoroughly.
- Bring about 1/2 inch oil in a wide, heavy pot to 350°to 375°F over high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain that temperature range. (Use a thermometer, or test the temperature with one of the green beans: the oil should sizzle around the bean immediately, but not violently (no splattering!). Another option is to use the handle of a wooden spoon: the oil should sizzle up around it immediately but not violently.)
- Shake any excess flour mixture off the beans as you add them to the hot oil. Only add as many as can fit in a roomy single layer in the oil so they have room to move around and be surrounded by the oil (and so many aren't added that they significantly lower the temperature of the oil!). You will likely need to work in batches. Fry the beans until they're golden to medium brown and the beans are tender, about 3 minutes. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the beans to a cooling rack set over paper towels. Sprinkle them with salt and serve hot. Repeat the process with any remaining beans.