If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve been hopping around on one foot for a few days. Today, I got the cast off, the stitches out, and a walking boot, making me a two-footed cook. But I still can’t stand up for long periods – more like twenty to thirty minutes at a time.
Every menu plan has to take this into account. I stand and chop and otherwise mis en place… then rest. Then I cook. So, as seductive as the market is right now with eggplant, squash, leeks, carrots, okra, and of course, tomatoes, whatever I plan to do can’t take too long to make, or too much babysitting.
Okra. Are you an okra hater? Do you pass it over because you have no idea what to do with it? Well, I can assure you, pickling okra is fantastic and pickled okra are about the coolest bloody Mary garnish around. Also, wrap a slice of ham and cheese around an okra pickle for a retro finger food or picnic item. For the okra pickle, just use a basic hot vinegar brine with pickling spice (or your own spice blend) and let them steep for two weeks before enjoying. (Okra pickles can be processed in a boiling water bath.)
But that’s not the only thing to do with okra. It’s wonderful in gumbo, of course, and in Indian spiced stews. Still, this takes a knowledge of okra, a familiarity, to eat okra that’s been stewed. Stewing can bring out the slime and if this is the only way you’ve sampled okra, I’m here to give you another choice.
Pan fried okra. Never slimy, just crunchy, salty, satisfying.
Set up a quick three step coating – some flour in bowl one, a couple of beaten eggs in bowl two, half and half cornmeal and flour in bowl three. Each bowl gets seasoned with salt and pepper, the last bowl gets a big pinch of cayenne, too.
Slice okra into 1/2″ rings. If the okra is very small, you can fry it up whole, which is fun and super cute as an appetizer.
In a cast iron or other straight sided skillet, heat up some oil (canola, grapeseed, safflower) or some bacon fat (classic preparation and so much better, really, but be aware of your salt in the three step coating.) You want it about 3/4″ deep.
When doing the coating dance, use one hand for the dry and one hand for the wet – it’s a hokey pokey. Put the okra rings in the flour with the dry hand. Stir the okra around until the rings are all coated.
Now, taking just a few of the rings at once in the dry hand, drop them into the beaten egg. With the wet hand, dunk and coat the okra thoroughly and remove the wet okra and drop it into the cornmeal flour mixture. Using your dry hand, pile the flour/cornmeal over the wet okra. Toss the bowl around a bit to coat the okra and use the dry hand to move the coated okra to a sheet pan.
Now, look at your hands. One should be dry and fairly clean, the other… not so much. When I first tried to master this art, I could be heard muttering in the kitchen “Wet hand, dry hand. Wet hand, dry hand.”
When the oil is good and hot, start frying the okra quickly in the pan, just a few at a time, not crowding. They will brown up fast – just a couple of minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Shower with salt while they’re hot.
Serve just like popcorn, or make some sort of fancy aioli or mayonnaise for dipping, if you want.
I have turned even the most suspicious eater into an okra lover with this method. It’s crunchy and salty. What’s not to love?
PS If you decide okra is cool, try it roasted. Divine.