Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fried Okra

The Setting: It is downright gorgeous outside right now. Might have to bust out the stroller and go for a jog...which is probably a good idea after Saturday's big dinner.

The Soundtrack: 9 to 5. Has there EVER been a better threesome than Dolly, Lily, and Jane?

Steaming up the oven: Toast.

The Scenario: Time for the next in the series of Music City in the Midwest recipes. Let's hear it for Fried Okra!

It may not be the kind of exotic bizarre food that would attract the likes of Andrew Zimmern, but okra is SCARY.

Long and pointy with slightly sappy fur, the pods themselves are a little on the intimidating side. When you throw in the--let's just say it--mucus-y slime from the interior, this domestic freak show is like a durian on your doorstep.

I understand the fear. I felt it myself as a child.

My mom would order okra at restaurants, and I'd curl away in my seat in terror.

But then I sampled a steaming bowl of gumbo and lived to ask for seconds. There was OKRA in that?

The next time I saw little golden puffs of fried okra on my mom's plate, I found my body uncurling in curiosity...I found my hand creeping toward her plate and reaching for a crispy okra nubbin...And I found the okra DELICIOUS.

These days it's pretty hard for me not to order fried okra when I see it on a menu. But it's easier to resist knowing that I make a pretty darn good version at home.

Fried Okra
Okra plants, actually a close relative to the Hibiscus, grow well in warm climates. Hoosband and I first made fried okra from our own homegrown okra, but now we rely on the freezer section of the nearest grocery store.

~for the buttermilk bath~
1 1/2 lbs frozen cut okra
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 egg
2 T kosher salt
3 T hot sauce

~for the breading~
1 cup four
1 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal (not corn muffin mix)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper

~for frying~
peanut oil

Place frozen okra in a double layer of gallon-sized zip-top bags, set aside.

In a small bowl, thoroughly whisk together the buttermilk bath ingredients. Pour buttermilk mixture over okra, seal bags, and gently shake to coat. Allow okra to thaw in the buttermilk mixture in the fridge overnight.

In a large bowl whisk together the breading ingredients. Set a sieve inside the bowl so that it is filled with the breading mixture.

Heat a depth of 1-2 inches peanut oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saute pan or cast-iron skillet over med-high heat. To check the oil, run your fingers under cold water and flick a few drops into the oil. If the oil is ready the water droplets will jump and spatter; if they jump too violently, your oil may be too hot.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels and place a cooling rack on top.

Working in batches, use a slotted spoon to transfer okra to breading mixture and shake to coat completely. Lift up the sieve and shake off excess breading before transferring the okra to the hot oil.

Fry the okra just until light golden on all sides.

Use a spider or heatproof slotted spoon to transfer the okra to the prepared cooling rack. Repeat with remaining okra and breading.

Once a batch of okra has drained and cooled, it can be transferred to a serving bowl or foil roasting pan to make room for remaining batches.

Serve immediately. Okra can be warmed through in a baking dish or foil roasting pan at 350 degrees F if desired.

Guest Feedback:
Average Score on a scale of 0-5, 0 being "Never again. Need to set my mouth on fire to extinguish the memory" and 5 being "Woohoo! When can I eat that again?" 4.6
Comments: "Very surprised. Very refreshing, even fried." "Good for kids! Definitely will be making it!" "My kids even loved it." "Very Good."

This recipe was featured in a post called Music City in the Midwest for's 24x24 event, for which 24 food bloggers from around the world are selected to host dinner parties within the same 24 hours and blog about them.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

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