Y'all aren't really going to go out and scour the countryside for okra to fry up tonight for dinner using my first pass at a recipe, are you?
I confess, the notion has rattled my already shaky okra-fryin' confidence in a very real way.
Remember this is my FIRST attempt. Well, I mean it's my UMPTEENTH attempt, but my first after a mandatory 2 year hiatus in the fryin' of okra. I was hoping somehow the hiatus would have pressed my Okra Fryin' Reset Button and I'd be starting afresh. And I guess it did, actually.
Okey doke (she said nervously.) Let's fry us some okra, y'all.
Y'all Will Need:
- About 2 cups of whole okra pods that follow the Okra Rule of Thumb, which means, literally, that the okra needs to look a lot like your thumb. And make sure it's plenty green and free of brown spots. Solid green color is important. See the picture in the previous post for a nice healthy specimen.
- 2-3 Tbsp. buttermilk (regular milk will do in a pinch, but buttermilk is better.)
- 1/4 - 1/2 cup of Jiffy® Corn Muffin mix*
- Enough vegetable or canola oil to cover the bottom of a nice heavy saucepan about 1 1/2 to 2 inches. (I used a small RevereWare® copper-bottomed pan that I know to distribute heat evenly.)
- A cooking thermometer (Mine's a simple digital meat probe-ish one.)
- A plate or platter covered in paper toweling or torn paper grocery sacks.
How To Fry Okra: (Small nervous glance into your eyes.)
Wash and dry your okra well. Cut off the stem end of the okra. Okra reminds me of little Girl Scouts, for some reason. You just want to cut off the little Girl Scout's beanie. Slice each okra into pretty little wheels about 1/2 inch thick. (The wheels will look like that pretty "flower" in my header up there.) Now you have to admit (if you have good okra) that this is one fascinating vegetable. Do not be icked out by the seeds and the goo. They will grow on you, I promise.
Now, discard your little Girl Scout caps and put all your okra wheelies into a nice sized mixing bowl. Douse them with the buttermilk and toss to coat. Salt well.
Drain off any buttermilk you see pooling in the bowl. You want well-coated okra, but no excess buttermilk hanging around. I forgot to take a picture of this step. I am deeply, deeply sorry. My excitement got the best of me momentarily.
Now sprinkle the coated okra with the Jiffy Muffin Mix and again, toss to coat. You can have someone help you with this step, even. It's just that simple.
Now comes the trickiest part of the whole deal. This is where the process has fallen apart for me before. Put your saucepan on the stove and pour in oil to give you about a 1 1/2 to 2 inch oil level. Turn on the heat and allow the oil to heat to just ABOVE 350° F. My thermometer registered around 365° F when I moved to the next step.
Carefully spoon in enough of the battered okra to create one layer that nearly covers the surface of the pan. Use your spoon to gently separate the okra from one another, as they have a tendency to cling to one another. I would cling, too, if I were being lowered into a pan of hot oil. But they will separate easily for you.
The introduction of the okra will do two things. Make a very pleasing "FRYYYYYYYYYYYY" sound, and reduce the temperature of your oil slightly. That's why we wanted to start a little bit OVER 350°. Because 350° will create a nice fry, so we want to stay as close to that as we can. I didn't recheck the temp to make sure it was right, though. I could tell it was doing fine by monitoring the frying action. Had I put the okra in and suddenly noticed a significant stilling of the fry action or worse yet NO ACTION at all, I'd know to crank up the heat. If I put the okra in and it turned into little charcoal briquettes immediately, well, then I'd know the oil was TOO DARNED HOT.
Now, we watch and wait.
See the okra's breading begin to get a little bit golden?
The top of the okra may stay pale. If you see this happening, gently flip your okra over with your spoon so that each whole wheel gets goldenified.
When you are beginning to see a panful of nicely golden okra wheels, you are nearing the finish line. You must watch carefully now as a tiny bit of char begins to form on some of your okra (it seems to form on the exposed OKRA first, before it chars the crust. You want this. You want charred OKRA, not charred batter). And then, when you see the char beginning to appear, you must immediately begin okra retrieval with your slotted spoon. Failure to remove the okra just as the char begins to appear means you will have overcharred okra. The charring, once it begins, happens fast. STAY ON TOP OF THE CHAR.
Remove that batch of okra with a slotted spoon onto the paper-lined platter. I remove the pot from the heat and hold it by the handle over the platter because the thought of trying to remove grease laden okra from a pot surrounded by open flame makes my eyebrows and hair tremble in fear. Toss the okra around on the paper to help it shake off its excess oil. This'll get you crispier, crunchier okra. Return your pot to the heat so the oil can get back up to 365°F.
THE TIME TO SALT IS NOW. Salt while the okra is piping hot, so the salt can stick onto and be absorbed into that lovely golden crust. If you wait'll the okra cools, you'll just get a bunch of salt grains stuck to your greasy paper towels. YUCK.
Repeat the process above, adding the okra in batches, frying carefully, keeping an eye on your oil temp, and salting each batch after removing it to the platter. Don't forget the CHAR factor.
Turn off the heat. Sample okra. Sample okra some more. Try to determine how much okra you can "sample" and still leave enough to constitute an acceptable serving on each plate when you serve dinner. (Sigh. You will be amazed at how small a serving you can justify as you continue to sample.)
Oh, I hope y'all will like this if you try it. If not, I'll be trying again next time I find good okra, so keep checking in and maybe together we'll find us some Okra Nirvana.
* This mix is SWEET. It made the crust on the okra little bit sweet, which was my only real complaint about this particular recipe. Next time I do it, I'll just use a 1:1 ratio of flour to yellow corn meal and some salt. And maybe a tidge of cayenne pepper. I confess, that's what I'd have done this time if I hadn't opened my cabinet once I had my little wheels cut up and discovered I didn't HAVE any just plain ol' cornmeal. But I am Southern, so I always have several boxes of Jiffy® Corn Muffin Mix on hand. That's mandatory, you know.
And I will tell you about the tiny corn muffins on my feet later today! Must go feed the hungry little person in pink her breakfast.
*Okay, so. Fryin' okra, as you can imagine while reading the instructions above, requires some pretty intense concentration to avoid the burnage and the, you know, house fire. So while I was a' fryin', the Bean was loose in the kitchen. With the spray nozzle from the sink.
Now I let her use the spray nozzle just about every day, but with a certain ( AHEM.
Eagle-eye!) amount of supervision. Today though, she was on her own, and the spray of water hastily spread it's drippy radius out of the sink, onto the countertops, down the cabinet fronts and onto the floor. Once her entire workspace was thoroughly drenched, Bean grew bored (Challenge met! What's next?) and her little clever eyes fell upon the open box of Jiffy® Corn Muffin Mix.
You know what's coming next, yes?
The mealy, floury, sweet mix, now in the hands of Madame Destructo. You know, in my head, I was thinking, "Oh well, how bad can this be, really. It's fun for her, she's learning and experimenting and I can clean it up." Yet of course, because I have also seen the bedlam this kid is capable of perpetrating in miniscule amounts of time, I am also watching things happen in slow motion as I TEND MY PRECIOUS OKRA WITH MY EYEBALLS AND HANDS and attempting to avert total disaster using only my voice and feet. (Not effective.) Well, of COURSE the Jiffy® mix ended up all over the wet countertops and down the cabinets and on the floor, right where all the water went, so effectively by the time all was said and done, Bean and Mama were slopping around in corn muffin batter in about 2 seconds flat. And, well, it really wasn't that bad. After I got the okra all fried up and the part of it that was left after all the sampling put to bed in a warm oven to wait for Al, I sent Bean off to wash her hands in the bathroom and cleaned up the mess in the kitchen. But I never really got around to cleaning off the bottoms of my feet, or Bean's for that matter (which would explain the cornmeal in the bathtub later on). So later than evening, when I sat down to relax, there remained a little dried up corn muffin batter residue on my soles, and the puzzled queries from the husband ensued.
Hm. Was that a little anticlimactic?