Monday, September 1, 2008

Country Fried Okra: A Summer Table Staple for Generations

Okra (pronounced Oh-Kree here) has been a summer staple around these parts for generations. Usually folks either hate it or really like it. I’m a fan of okra.

When growing up, okra was used in the kitchen as a fried compliment to purple hull peas and other fresh garden vegetables. It was also used as a thickener for vegetable soups. Fresh vegetable soup is not the same without a generous supply of sliced fresh okra, cabbage and fresh tomatoes. I can also remember my mom placing fresh pods of okra on top of boiling peas or beans and letting the vegetable slow cook in the pot.

A member of the mallow family related to cotton, hibiscus and hollyhock, okra has a long tradition in the South. It has been said this vegetable was brought to the Caribbean and American colonies from western Africa during the 1700’s, In Louisiana, the Creoles learned from slaves the use of okra (often called gumbo) to thicken soups and it is now an essential ingredient in Creole Gumbo.

Around these parts, most every family garden have a row or two of okra. Such varieties as Cajun Delight, Cajun Jewel, and Clemson Spineless are favorites and okra even comes in varieties that are red and burgundy.

My favorite method of cooking okra is pan frying. To me, the frozen and heavily battered deep-fried okra usually served in restaurants in no way resembles the home fried okra I have always enjoyed. The best way to prepare pan fried okra is to select small tender pods. After slicing the okra into a bowl, a simple generous dusting with corn meal and an ample supply of black pepper is all that is needed. After tossing the mixture, and adding a little salt, the okra is then pan-fried over medium heat until the batter is a golden brown. The result is a tender fried vegetable with a light crispy crunch.

A history of okra from:


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you grew up liking the "same recipe" my mother used in frying okra "fresh out of the garden" in the summertime. How would you like to eat that same quality year 'round? Since I can no longer grow my own okra, I have found a very acceptable substitute and that is the frozen sliced okra that I buy at the grocery store. I do not thaw before adding to my cast iron skillet containing a small amount of Crisco. I place it in a strainer/colander and rinse quickly and dipping a handful at a time in my cornmeal generously seasoned with salt and pepper and shaking it to rid excess cornmeal before placing in the hot skillet. If fried on a medium heat, this okra will taste just like fresh from the garden. It is an interesting side dish I serve at Thanksgiving or Christmas. "Try it, you'll like it." bettye

Bob Franks said...

Thanks for writing Bettye. I'm going to have to try that frozen sliced okra. I have never tried it before. I've had the frozen battered okra like they serve in many restaurants, but its nothing like what I was raised on. The batter is simply too thick and too sweet. I think the difference between that and what we were raised on is the difference in the okra being heavily battered and simply being "dusted" with cornmeal.