"Southern" is often synonymous with "fried." In a rare exception for us and vegetables, "fried" is also synonymous with "okra." In our minds, there are few things more Southern than fried okra, and there's no better way to prepare okra than breading it and dropping it in a big pan of grease.
We've served okra to a lot of guests, and most of them are skittish about it at first. "Okra?" they say. "Gross. It's so slimy!" After their first bite, though, they're positively hooked.
If you think you don't like okra, that's only because you've never had it fried.
For the past seven months, we've had a freezer full of breaded okra. Why?
Well, last year we joined a CSA. For those of you not familiar, CSAs -- Community Supported Agriculture groups -- are farms supported by members who subscribe and then receive a weekly allotment of seasonal vegetables. In the case of our CSA, half of the shares are purchased by people like ourselves and half the shares are given away to low income families. Though last year was tough on our CSA -- thanks to droughts and deer -- it was a great experience and we eagerly signed up again this year.
In addition to weekly vegetables, our farm also offers certain items for U-pick. Flowers and herbs and a few vegetables are typically offered each week. Toward the end of last year's season, okra became available and we decided to go pick some and prepare it for freezing.
Seven months later, we're nearing the end of our okra stash, and our Southern Dinner seemed like the perfect opportunity to serve it. For both the prep and the frying, we used a Lee Brothers recipe (gotta love a recipe that suggests fried okra as a snack!). The resulting fried okra, hot out of the pan, is an amazing treat. We highly recommend sprinkling it with a good dose of course grain salt before serving.
If you're interested in more of our CSA experience, we documented our seven months of vegetables over on Flickr, and we'll be doing the same this year. You can find photos from our first few shares here.
Two notes about this recipe:
1. As we mentioned, you can slice and bread the okra and then freeze it, and it'll be just as good as when it's fresh. (We froze ours scattered out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and then transfered them to plastic bags once they were frozen. That prevents you from ending up with a huge frozen chunk of okra pieces.)
When you're ready to cook, there's no need to even thaw the okra: just heat up your oil and drop in the okra straight from the freezer.
2. Zach's granny (of Chocolate Gravy fame) always says it's a good idea to make twice as much fried okra as you intend to actually serve at the table. Why? Because the delicious smell of these golden little bites will undoubtedly lure your dinner guests into the kitchen. And they won't be able to keep from snacking on the okra while it cools!
Have other okra recipes you love? Please share! We'll be needing them at the end of the summer.
Crispy Fried Okra
The Lee Brothers, via Serious Eats
Makes 2 pounds; enough for 6 to 8 as a side dish, and 12 for snacking.
Time: 30 minutes
4 cups peanut or canola oil
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds fresh okra, sliced into 16-inch-thick rounds (about 7 cups)
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Sea salt to taste (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.
2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or a 3-quart enameled cast-iron casserole until the temperature on a candy thermometer reads 375 degrees.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk until they are well combined, about 1 minute. In a medium bowl, sift the cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper together twice. Add the okra to the egg mixture and toss until it is evenly coated. Scatter half the dredge over the okra and toss to coat. Scatter the remaining dredge over the okra and toss again.
4. Transfer about one-third of the okra to the oil with a slotted spoon and fry in batches, turning as necessary with the spoon, until the slices are golden brown all over, about 2 minutes per batch.
5. Using the slotted spoon, transfer the okra to a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels. When it has drained, transfer to a ceramic serving dish that holds heat well and place in the oven until ready to serve.
6. Dust the okra with red pepper flakes and sea salt, if desired, and pass a cruet of Pepper Vinegar around the table when you serve.