What Did You Say You Were Fixin'? (How to Cook Fried Okra)
CAST IRON REQUIRED
- Cast Iron Skillet
One of my family’s favorite side dishes is fried okra. This underestimated vegetable of African origins is definitely a southern staple. Unfortunately, the most common method of serving okra is with a heavy breading. While it can still be tasty, the potential of the okra is wasted inside such doughy coatings. Cooking okra at home produces far more satisfying results than ordering it at the restaurant, but you’ll need a few simple pointers to fry okra up exactly right. (Incidentally, okra can add wonderful flavor to soups and can make an excellent combination with stewed tomatoes, but we’ll focus on fried okra today.)
Finding fresh okra is your first step. Typically, okra is in season year round in the south and from May through October in other areas. If, however, you are unable to get your hands on any fresh okra, pick up a bag of fresh frozen okra in the frozen food section of your local grocery.
Next, you will need cornmeal and oil. Typically, I use yellow cornmeal because I like the grainy texture. However, other forms of cornmeal will fry up nicely. I generally use vegetable oil, but canola oil will serve the purpose as well.
Once you’ve assembled your ingredients, you can begin. The amount of cornmeal you need will depend on how much okra you are cooking. You will need enough cornmeal in a bowl to coat the okra. If you have found fresh okra, you’ll want to make sure it is free of dirt. I recommend wiping the okra off carefully with a paper towel or an old towel. Running okra under water tends to make it slimy. Cutting the okra will also be a little slimy, so if you have allergies, you may want to wear gloves while cutting it. When the okra is clean, cut the ends off of the pieces and then slice the okra into small pieces of approximately 1/4 inch each. As you cut the okra, drop the pieces into the cornmeal. (If you are using precut, frozen okra, simply drop it into the cornmeal.) Run your fingers through the cornmeal and mix the okra into the meal until the okra is coated.
Pour enough oil into your skillet to cover the bottom. Heat the oil on medium-high heat. Heating the oil will take approximately 5 minutes. After a few minutes, test the oil by sprinkling a dash of water over the oil. If it pops or sizzles, you’ll know the oil is ready for the okra. Turn your heat down to medium. Using a long-handled spoon, carefully drop the breaded okra into the pan in a single layer. Do not “stack” the okra. Allow the okra to cook approximately 5-10 minutes (if it was fresh, longer if it was frozen) before stirring for the first time. Stir the okra slowly and periodically until it fries to a nice golden color. Once the okra is done, drop it onto a place covered by a couple of paper towels (to absorb excess oil). Salt and pepper the okra liberally. Continue cooking if you have more okra. You may have to add oil to the pan as you finish your okra. You may also need to scoop out the breading that has fallen in the pan as it can burn while you are cooking a second round of okra.
If you are not completely satisfied with your first effort at frying okra, please don’t give up! The most common mistakes when frying okra typically come from having your heat up too high or cooking the okra too long. You want to remove it from the heat when it has just become crunchy.
While okra makes an excellent side dish to most any meat, my favorite pairings are with grilled chicken, pork chops, or barbecued ribs. If you happen to be a vegetarian, you might especially enjoy fried okra with corn on the cob and stewed tomatoes.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or you can contact Leila directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.