Southern Fried Edition (Part 1): Fried Okra

The South is known for many things:  obsessive football traditions, sweet tea in mason jars, slow and drawn out speech, magnolia trees, Scarlett O’Hara (“As Gawwwwwd as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!”), and of course:  fried food.

Unquestionably one of the greatest southern fried dishes is okra.  You may remember okra made an appearance in my last recipe post.

Oops I did it again.  (You’re going to have Britney stuck in your head the rest of the day,  I’m sorry.)

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But this time, after I sliced it, I soaked it in buttermilk, then slapped it in some flour and cornmeal, and fried it in the cast iron skillet my mammaw gifted me on my wedding day almost eight years ago.
Did you catch that, Joe?  EIGHT years ago in October.  Pop quiz:  What DAY in October?
I’m just kidding y’all.  Joe knows our wedding anniversary.  He just likes to kid around every once in a while.  Like when we were engaged and he “jokingly” told his sister that we were getting married on October 17th when really it was the 18th.  Yeah, smooooooth Joe.  It was just the one time he gave a “joke” date, but it’s my job as a spouse to never let him forget it.  Ever.

Where was I?  Oh yes, preparing our okra.

I sliced up about a pound of okra that I picked up from Good Earth Produce & Garden Center last week on double punch Wednesday!  (You get a punch in a card each time you visit and after 10 visits, or only 5 if you shop on Wednesdays, you get $5 off your next visit.)

Then I piled the okra slices in a cup of buttermilk.

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(If you don’t keep buttermilk in your fridge, here’s a shortcut:  Pour just under 1 cup of whole milk in to a bowl and add 1 tbsp vinegar.  Let it set for about 5 minutes and you’ll have buttermilk!)

I let the okra soak in the buttermilk for about 15 minutes while I started heating up 2 cups of vegetable oil in my skillet at medium-high heat.
I added a half cup all-purpose flour, half cup cornmeal, and healthy pinches of cayenne, salt, and pepper to a separate bowl.

Next, I transferred my buttermilk-soaked okra to the bowl of flour/cornmeal mix with a slotted spoon and gave it a good shake to coat them really well.

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Now, it’s time to fry.
Pour ya a big ol’ mason jar full’a sweet tea and turn on yer ceilin’ fan ‘cuz it’s about ta get hot in here, y’all.  It’s important to throw in that real Southern twang when you’re fryin’ food on yer stovetop.

To check if my oil is ready, I usually run my fingers under the kitchen tap for a second and flick the water in to the skillet.  If it starts to pop and hiss, your oil is ready!  If it starts popping off like the fourth of July and raining grease all over your skin, you need to reduce your heat because we’re cooking, not going in to battle.

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(This photo just screams healthy, doesn’t it?)  

The tough part about tossing food in to an oil-filled skillet (besides the potential bodily injury) is resisting the urge to “babysit” the food and stirring it around immediately.  If you start turning this okra right away, you’re only knocking off the breading and that defeats the whole purpose.
My suggestion is to put it in a small batch at a time and watch the bubbles collect around each piece.  Don’t pick up your spoon or swish that skillet around.  Good food (remember I said good, not healthy) takes a little patience.  After about 60 seconds you should notice browning on the sides of each piece.
Now take your slotted spoon to a piece and make sure it turns easily and isn’t sticking to the bottom of the skillet (which would mean you need to adjust your temperature).  At this point, I’ll slowly tilt my skillet at a slight angle so that the oil slides over and coats the top portion of the okra.  I wait a few seconds before I lightly stir through the batch, letting the pieces turn in the oil for a final coat.
Frying food on the stovetop takes practice and patience to get the perfect browned/crispy batter.

Remove the fried batch from the skillet on to a paper towel lined plate to soak up some of that excess grease.  Keep working in small batches until finished.

Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits (er, grease?) of your labor!

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Fried okra makes a fantastic side dish to almost any dinner.  I also like to slice up a tomato and salt it to eat with my okra as a snack.  Fried okra is like the Pringles of the South.  You can’t eat just a handful.  You’re popping them in your mouth until they’re gone and as a bonus you don’t have that narrow chip can that your hand won’t fit in to slow you down.

And because I’m getting all Southern today, I had to add in my jar of sweet tea for good measure:

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Southern Fried Okra recipe

Cast of characters:

  • 1 pound of okra, sliced (1/4 inch is good, but that’s up to you!)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • pinch of cayenne
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying

Directions:

  1. Slice up your okra and add to a bowl filled with 1 cup buttermilk, let it soak about 15 minutes.
  2. While okra is soaking in buttermilk, heat your vegetable oil in a skillet over medium/high heat.
  3. In a large bowl, mix all-purpose flour, cornmeal, cayenne, salt, and pepper.
  4. Transfer okra to the flour/cornmeal bowl with a slotted spoon and coat all the pieces well.
  5. Test that your oil is hot (you want it to hiss and pop but nothing too dramatic) and add the battered okra in to the skillet in small batches.
  6. Don’t babysit the skillet.  Let the okra set for about 60 seconds before you move it around with a spoon.
  7. Make sure the pieces are nice and browned before removing them to a paper towel lined plate with your slotted spoon.
  8. Let cool slightly and serve.

If you want to bake your okra for a slightly healthier dish, follow directions 1-4 above while your oven preheats at 375 degrees.

  • Line a greased baking sheet with your okra, shaking off excess batter.
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  • Place in preheated oven for 18 minutes.
  • Turn the okra over and place back in the oven for additional 18 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and shake okra around to remove any remaining excess batter.
  • Let cool slightly and serve.
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Notes:

While the thought of having leftover okra is hard to fathom, I decided to save a portion of both the fried and baked okra I made to see how well it did reheating.  I’m happy to say you can refrigerate your leftovers and re-heat in the oven (both the fried and baked) at 350 degrees for 5 – 1o minutes and it is just as delicious.  The batter we used here doesn’t leave it soggy or flavorless after reheating.

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