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.
I'll just let you absorb that.
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.
(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
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
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.
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.