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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's Been Too Long, Old Friend

Have y'all ever wondered why, in all the recipes I've posted, you haven't seen one for FriedOkra itself? I'll let you in on a little secret. Frying okra is not my strong suit. I can EAT it better than anyone I know, but preparing it, well, that's a whole 'nother story. Part of my failure is in my very high standards.

Having lived in the South for most of my born days, I have wrapped my tongue around some of the best fried okra (or fried OKRY, as we can't help but say when the eating of it is imminent, beCAUSE, when you're about to eat some fried okra, everything suddenly gets super-funny and super-Southern - I call this The FriedOkra Fee-nomenon. It is likely caused by the intense anticipation which cuts off a certain percentage of the normal supply of oxygen to the brain. What it feels like is the way you felt when you were a kid, just hopping out of bed on Christmas morning, waiting for the first peek into the living room at what Santa left under the tree. Yeah, that's the feeling exactly. But what was I talking about? Oh yes, my impossible fried okra standards.)

Anyway where ever I go to eat down South, if they offer me fried okra, I take it. Which means I've eaten approximately three to four tons of okra in my lifetime. No, I am not embarrassed to admit this.

Eating fried okra by the ton, my lovies, is my birthright, and I do not take that lightly.

And then, to top it all off, my treks about the South and all the okra-eating were supplemented on the home front by my own mother (who is getting a lot of airtime this week on the blog, for some reason. Why is that?) who could fry an okra better'n anyone. Ever. Period. And what is MORE, my people, is that my mother? Grew her OWN okra. Oh yes, that she did. And y'all have not had good okra until you have had it cut off eight-foot stalks in your very own backyard about four-point-six-two minutes ago. My mom also knew the true secret to okra fryin', which is that to be really good, it has to have a little char on it. Yes, I said char. CHAR.

CHAAAAAAARRRR.

I'll just let you absorb that.

Now then.

Yes, my dirty secret. My private shame. Is that I can't do it. Not like she does. Not even like the restaurants do, even though most restaurants' okra is not quite the way I love it. Restaurants (and the purveyors of your grocery-store variety frozen breaded okra, which, though it WILL do in a pinch, is not what *I* mean when I say "real fried okra,") will bread and batter up a little okra wheel so that really, you can't be SURE there's okra in there until you've bitten into it, and when you DO bite into it, the bread:okra ratio is way heavy on the breading side of the equation, and can leave your okrabuds (the tastebuds that were put into place especially to recognize and appreciate the gentle but distinctive flavor of okra) somewhat dissatisfied or even downright disappointed.

Which is a BAD thing, in case that last sentence left you slightly confused.

Witness the photo below, where you can see for yourself the fried okra I consumed just moments after ending the first leg of our flight down South last month, in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport. This was great okra, but then I'd been okra-deprived for nearly 18 months, so what did I really know? I was just happy to be on Southern soil and within tongue-shot of the stuff.

As you can see (the okra is at about 1 or 2 o'clock in this photo, under the half-eaten fried PICKLE), this okra is indistinguishable really from the other fried factions on the plate, which is a no-no in my book.

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(Also pictured are some of fried okra's best pals, cornbread, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese casserole.) (And, of course, the Tabasco Sauce that goes on the collards.)

For it to be the best fried okra, in addition to having a little of the aforementioned char, a certain amount of the okra must be exposed and visible to the eye, such that when looking at a heaped up pile of okra, the eater recognizes it as OKRA. Not, say, tiny fried mushroom caps.

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT, PEOPLE. I have had it happen to me that I tucked into a plateful of what I believed to be (over-breaded) fried okra with 16 of all my okrabuds a'blazin' and come to find out it was NOT fried okra, but tiny baby fried mushroom caps.

This was not a pretty moment in my life.

And I truly want to unshame myself by learning the timeless skill art of okra fryin'. The only trouble is, as I have mentioned, one cannot find decent okra around here upon which to practice.

Until Saturday, or in "Fried Okra Fee-nomenon-Speak" Sair-dee, when the family and I were out perusing the produce section of our local grocery store for Key Limes (which they sadly didn't have), and all-of-a-sudden my OKRADAR went off. And out of the corner of my eye I was able to make out a small, shallow terra cotta bowl full of the green fuzziness and unmistakeable shape of

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO KRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

I quickly beat feet to the edge of the pot, whereupon I STUCK OUT MY THUMB in preparation for the ultimate okra test. An okra, in order to be tender and delicious, must be no wider, and never much longer than, a grown Southern woman's thumb.

BEHOLD, PEOPLE, IF YOU WILL, THE GLORY THAT IS A DECENT OKRA, FOUND. IN ILLINOIS.

And commit this picture to memory, too, for the below is a fine specimen you can use as a mental comparison should you ever need one, particularly if your womanly thumb doesn't happen to be, you know, Southern.

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Now, had I been somewhere in the South and seen such lovely okra, I'd have moved VERY casually and slowly so as not to draw attention to myself or these Perfect Pods of Perfectly Perfect Perfection, and I'd have carefully gathered up a bag and loaded it quietly before anyone saw what I'd found and made to wrench it from my grasp.

But up here, any fear of inciting riot in the supermarket over even the BEST okra would be, well, unfounded. Seeing as how even the checkout lady even had to ASK what THESE, UM ... THINGS were.

Okra-ignorance. It's a blessing ANNNND a curse.

So I called for a bag, which was hastily provided by my right hand woman, Bean, and I gathered myself a family's worth of okra. And lo, I was happy. Al was happy. Bean was mystified (a fact which saddens me to the core, I might add)

And last night, I fried it.

And it was. GOOD.

And tomorrow, I will show and tell you how I did it. AND, I will explain the following odd conversation, which took place after the okra had been consumed and the kitchen restored to order:

Al: What are those THINGS on the bottoms of your feet? Are those CORNS?

Megan: (Looking at her feet.) Oh! No, not corns. Those, actually, are itty bitty corn muffins.

Al: Ah.

24 comments:

  1. Yum, fried okra is the best. Although I do think everything is better fried. That is a sign of a true Southerner right?

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  2. As you know I have only had fried okra once, at a place you recommended and it was good! Us Michiganders just don't have opportunities like that come up too often! I'm anxious to hear more about the "corn muffins".

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  3. my 7 year old eats one vegetable and one vegetable only: fried okra. Every time we take a road trip she begs us to stop at Cracker Barrel. This year we're planting a garden and of course she asked me to grow some, and I was hesitant to try it, but after reading this, I REALLY REALLY want some. That's good stuff.

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  4. I can't fry okra myself--Grandma has alluded to the "char" factor that only a two-generations-seasoned cast iron skillet can provide. Thankfully she's still up for frying a batch every time I beg! Cracking up over "corn muffins"--but what are you doing in your condition walking enough to bring them on? Put your feet up, Mama!

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  5. Oh my word, that is hilarious. and I'm so excited for you!!! But I am ashame to admit, *lowers voice to mere whisper* I have never had fried okra.

    I know, a travesty. I may have to remedy that when I go to Charlotte in JunE!

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  6. I am not a fan of okra, fried or otherwise, but I am interested in seeing your recipe.

    I am also intrigued about the corns. Hopefully they really are corn muffins because I'm not sure I could handle a post on fried okra AND corns (of the foot variety). ewww...

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  7. You're making my mouth water! I LOVE fried okra, and I, too, grew up with it but I've only made it myself a handful of times. The bad thing about it for me is the mess that frying anything makes. But sometimes it must be done.

    Summertime is my southern veggie plate time... collards, blackeyes, tomatoes, cornbread, and yes, sometimes okra, if I'm feeling energetic. Or hungry for soul food.

    Congratulations on the find! :)

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  8. If you post the recipe and I can find okra I may just have to try making it! Let's just hope my Yankee blood doesn't interfere with my ability to follow a recipe to perfection. :)

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  9. mmmm - okra. I'd love some right now! I actually tried my first fried pickle this afternoon. Yummy.

    We grew okra in our garden summer before last, but I kept forgetting to take the garden shears with me. It would grow from 3 inches (which is just right) to a foot overnight. Just so you know - a foot long okra pod isn't good eats!!

    Can't wait to hear about yours.

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  10. I have never, ever had fried okra. Or okra of any kind - it's really not eaten much around here. But I'm curious now. Maybe this weekend I'll plan a cornbread/macaroni and cheese/fried okra dinner and check it out!

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  11. I hate to "argue" with you but I do believe my Momma can fry up the best okra. Oh yes she can. When we lived up in Maryland, we found VERY few folks who had eaten fried okra. A few had not even heard of okra. I was mortified. Absolutely stunned!

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  12. I have never tasted Okra ... fried or otherwise. I don't even know if I can buy it in this country where I currently live - Australia. BUT, I looooove trying new foods and so, I'm a gonna see if I can find me some okra and make your fried okra recipe!

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  13. Lady, you are making me hungry for Summer with all of the fresh produce we have around here (N.C.). I swan, I practically go vegetarian! My favorite summer treat is a home-grown tomatoe still warm from the sun. I sprinkle it with salt and eat it like an apple.
    We have family nearby who like to grow beans, tomatoes, and OKRA. We had enough fried okra last summer to host a Fried Okra Fest, if there is such a thing!

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  14. This is a perfect post for your blog. I look forward to reading how you do it. I'm sure you'll be horrified to know that I usually BAKE my okra, after breading it. We grow it in our garden, and I just hate to fry something that started out so healthy! Perhaps after reading your next post, I will give it a try again...in a few months when I am picking it!

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  15. That is one BEE-U-TEE-FUL okra pod you got there. Really, I haven't seen one that good lookin' since we were at home! If I'd a been with ya', we'd a hadda bought the whole pot full.

    Anna K. has the right idea about the best way to eat a tomato. When FriedOkra and I were kids, our mom would send us out to the garden (same one that grew all our okra) to pick out a tomato for an afternoon snack after our trips to the swimming pool. I'd have the saltshaker in one hand and the tomato in the other, and boy, that juice would just roll down my arm and face. I can hardly wait until July!

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  16. megan- you gotta share with me just where in thr south you was growed up girl.Seems an awful lot of your spellin and the southern drawl you use is real close to the way we talk round here in this neck o' th woods! I coulda swore the other day when you said somethin was ruirnnt that you were my sister!!


    i live in north east 'PINEY WOODS" of Texas.

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  18. I remember the first time I ate fried okra. It was at a new and upcoming restaurant called Po Folks, where everything was fried or covered in gravy.
    I understand your plight in fixing okra just right. I love fried green tomatoes but can never get them just right

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  19. I had fried okra sunday after church and thought of you. There were macaroni pie, collard greens, and fried chicken too. Thought you'd be proud.

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  20. Oh, I AM proud. And very jealous, too. Who WAS that masked commenter?

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  21. Oh girl, I just love your blog! And I love all things southern, especially food & accents! I love it when you write in your accent - I can just (or is it jest) hear y'all talkin. Anytime I talk to my OKey cousins, I start talkin in OKey m'seff.
    The picture of the greens nearly slayed me, heaven on a plate! I tell ya, I was born in the wrong part of the country.

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  22. yes ma'am... its gotta have the char. my daddy fries 'em up 'til they are blackened.... YUMMY!!!!!

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  23. I started out hating okra. Once a week our school cafeteria would fry up the breaded versions mentioned above and I would nearly gag just looking at them. But, whoa mama! Once I got a taste of a real on out of a black iron skillet? I was hooked.

    Such a great post.

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Thoughts?