Monday, September 3, 2012

Southern Fried Okra

So. I don't think that I have mentioned it lately, but I am super proud to be from the South. One of many reasons for being proud of my Southern heritage is that I know how to make fried okra the right way. This recipe is for all of you who are not from the South/are from the South and have been eating the wrong fried okra. That's right. I said it. When you go to a restaurant and order fried okra - even if it is a Southern, down-home-cooking kind of place, chances are that you are going to get okra with breading on the outside. That kind of okra is soft/squishy on the inside and crunchy-ish on the outside. No wonder several of you are not a fan. That's not good enough my friends.
Real fried okra is crisp all the way through. It should crunch when you bite into it. The breading should be light but crunchy, and it should go all the way through the middle of the okra slices.
Common mistakes:
The cook breaded frozen okra while it was still frozen.
The cook quickly breaded the okra and put it right into the hot oil.
Don't be like them. Make fried okra the right way. The real stuff should make you consider asking your local theater to replace the popcorn station with a fried okra station. There should be fights over who gets the last few pieces. No matter how much you make there will never be enough.
Ok, I have to tell this story. When I was in college, the cafeteria served fried okra one night. An Asian student came up to our table, pointed to the fried okra, and exclaimed "What this is?! What this is?!" I should add that we had already watched him scarf down about three helpings of the stuff. We told him, "It's okra." He gave a less than satisfied look, and said, "What this okra?" We finally figured out that he wanted to know if it was a vegetable. When we told him that it was, he said, "It grows out the ground?" We laughed, and said, "Yeah." He walked away shaking his head. He couldn't believe that fried okra could be a vegetable.
This recipe is yet another recipe that my mom has made so very much that she has never written down how to make it, and she had never thought of the measurements. I asked if she would mind if I photographed her making okra. She said she wouldn't mind at all. Then I asked her to please measure as she went. She laughed at me. I think I forced a measuring cup into her hand at one point. Forced is a strong word. Suggested strongly by putting the measuring cup in her hand is more accurate.

Step One: Rinse the okra really well.
Me: 'Cause we don't wanna taste dirt.
My Mom: Or crunch down on it either.
Hahaha :)
So in this picture is our lovely (and clean!) sink, the okra in the sink, the water that is rinsing the okra, and my mom's hand that is trying desparately to escape the photo. See? I'm not the only one with those super red looking hands.
I have to show this picture of my mom cutting okra. This is how most Southern cooks cut fruits and vegetables. Paula Deen unthinkingly cut something this way on Food Network once. Later in the episode she had to explain that this method is not the safest way to cut fruits and vegetables. I laughed a lot. Someone probably had to point out to her that she even cut that way. Southern cooks everywhere must have chuckled to themselves. I am one of few Southern cooks who does not cut this way but only because I am one of the clumsiest people ever to walk the planet.
Step Two: Cut okra.
How to cut okra for frying
 Cut off the top part and the "tail" and discard. 
Cut into 1/4 in slices. Many people do not cut these thin enough.

This is just a happy picture.

This is a picture of a paper plate of a lot of the tops and ends of the okra that I had cut so far. I just throw all of them away at once.

Step Three: Put all of the okra in a bowl.

Step Four: Stir in buttermilk, and let the okra sit for about 5 minutes.

To quote many awesome Southern cooks I know, "Okra has to sit in its own slime for a bit before it is ready to fry."

The sliminess of okra is its biggest turn-off for people. If you let the okra sit in buttermilk for a while, when you fry the okra most (if not all) of that quality fries out. In fact, I am not sure of the science of all of it - but I would even argue that it makes the okra crispier. I may just be making that last part up, though. I do that sometimes.

Step Five: Pour canola or vegetable oil to a depth of about 1/2 in. - 3/4 in. in a large skillet. Heat over medium to medium high heat.

I will admit that we usually put more oil in the skillet than this. We ran out!

I would like to take this moment to take a time-out for a Southern authenticity lesson. In this picture, you will see White Lily Self-Rising Flour... 

...and in this picture, you will see White Lily Self-Rising Cornmeal.
If you are going to make fried okra, you should do it right. Using the White Lily flour and cornmeal is part of getting it right. I am not a spokesperson for White Lily. I don't get endorsements from them of any kind. I don't even know if they are based in the South, but I do know that many Southern cooks use their stuff because of their flavor. They have a buttery flavor. Use them. It's good stuff. Moving on...

Step Six: On a piece of aluminum foil or in a plate, mix together flour...

 ...and cornmeal.

We mix with our fingers. Can you tell?

Step Seven: Put about a handful of okra in the flour-cornmeal mixture...

 ...coat in the mixture,...

...and then pass the okra back and forth between your hands until the okra just have a light coating on them.

 Pile the okra in a plate as  you go. It's just easier that way :).

Notice this friends. This is super IMPORTANT. Notice that the breading goes all the way into all those nooks and crannies of each piece of okra. This is key for awesome fried okra.

How do you know when your oil is hot enough? Throw one little okra in there. If the oil does not start sizzling immediately, it is not ready. This photo is an example of not ready. This little guy just plopped in and sat there. Anticlimatic = Not Good Enough Yet.

Here's the set up. There is a plate of breaded okra that is ready to be fried on the right and a skillet full of oil that is almost hot enough on the left.

There is a plate lined with paper towels to the left of just cannot see it. My photography skills are awesome.

I'm not sure what is going on in the pot in the back.
Ok, so I don't know what this is technically supposed to be called. We call it that slotted-spoon-scooper-thing. We are very technical at my house. You will need one of these...whatever they are called.

Step Eight: Using your  slotted-spoon-scooper-thing, get a big scoop of the okra that you breaded...

...and carefully drop them into the sizzly, bubbly oil.

This is how full your pan should/can be. I think somewhere a Food Network chef cringes at how full this pan is. On the authority of a great fried okra cook, this is correct, though. Even those pieces that are poking up above the oil will get perfectly crispy.

See? They eventually all get engulfed by the oil.

Step Nine: When your okra are about this color (actually, I like mine a touch more golden, but I was not the cook this time :)), take out the okra with your slotted-spoon-scooper-thing...

...and transfer them to waiting paper towels. SALT them as you drop them onto the paper towel. The right time to salt them is as soon as they are out of the oil.

Pile o' okra!

As I said before, I usually like these a bit more golden, but as blonde as these look, they are super crunchy all the way through with a touch of softness on the inside...and no sliminess. Crunchy goodness only.

Take joy in knowing the right way to make okra. You just earned twenty Southern wisdom points. :) Enjoy!

Southern Fried Okra
Click here for printable version
1 qt. (appx. 1 1/2 lb.) okra
2 c. White Lily Self-Rising flour
1 c. White Lily Self-Rising cornmeal
1/4 c. buttermilk

Remove the top and the "tail" of each okra. Cut okra into 1/4 in. slices. Mix together okra slices and buttermilk in a medium bowl. Let this mixture sit at least 5 minutes.
Mix together flour and cornmeal on a piece of aluminum foil (or in a plate). Pour canola or vegetable oil to a depth of about 1/2 in. - 3/4 in. in a large skillet, and heat over medium to medium-high heat.
Working with a handful of okra at a time, coat the okra in the flour-cornmeal mixture, and then pass them between your hands until each one is lightly coated.
Drop one of the okra into the oil. If the oil sizzles right away, the oil is hot enough. Loosely fill the skillet of hot oil with okra (fry in batches if needed), and fry until golden brown. Remove okra to a paper towel lined plate, and salt to taste while hot.
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1 comment:

  1. Amber,
    I've never tried okra before but this looks scrumptious! Who doesn't love fried foods? I can’t wait to try the recipe. Thanks so much for linking up last week to Creative Thursday. Can’t wait to see what you have for this week’s party! Have a great week.


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