(Update: This is going to be the first in a series on Fried Southern food – all gluten free. I had hoped to start this with my recipe for Fried Onion Rings, but I need to perfect the dipping sauce tonight. After that will be Fried Green Tomatoes, and my Grandmother Somerville’s Fried Chicken Bits.)
In the Deep South, there are two ways to eat okra: fried and in gumbo. Having grown up in Alabama rather than Louisiana I am more familiar with fried okra. In fact, the recipe that follows does not have precise measurements because I learned how to fry okra by watching my mom.
A lot of people dislike okra because it can be very slimy. I am in perfect agreement with this, having never found the courage to try boiled okra. However, when okra is fried it’s just a little bundle of salty, crunchy goodness.
Most recipes call for the okra to be breaded in a mixture of cornmeal and flour. I have found that cornmeal does a great job all by itself and yields a crunchier end product. A word of warning if you’re not accustomed to buying cornmeal – stores usually carry cornmeal and cornmeal mix. The cornmeal mix includes wheat flour, backing powder, and baking soda so that it’s easier to make cornbread. The packaging is very similar so be sure to read the packaging and the labels very carefully.
Gluten Free Southern Fried Okra
1 lb. okra, fresh or frozen
1. Pour 3/4″ to 1″ of canola oil into your favorite frying pan. Heat over medium heat until the oil sizzles when you drop a bit of cornmeal in. (Alternatively, you can stick the end of a wooden spoon or skewer into the oil. If small bubbles form around the wood, then the oil is ready.)
2. Trim the ends off of the okra and cut into 1/2″ slices. If you’re using frozen sliced okra, just thaw it in the microwave.
3. By the time you finish cutting the okra it should be getting a bit slimy. This is good! The sliminess is the glue that holds the cornmeal to the okra. If the okra is not getting slimy, add a splash of water and stir. Put the okra into a large plastic Ziplock bag and pour in some cornmeal. Toss the okra and cornmeal so that all of the okra pieces are coated. If you need more cornmeal, pour some more in. You really can’t overdo it, because once all of the pieces are coated the excess cornmeal will remain in the bag. It should look like this when you’re done.
4. Assuming the oil is hot now, use a slotted spoon to remove some of the okra from the bag and place it into the oil. Continue adding okra to the oil until the skillet is 80% full. You need to leave a bit of room for the okra to move around as it cooks. (You may have to cook several batches, depending on how much okra you started with and the size of your skillet.)
5. The okra will need to fry for several minutes (I honestly have no idea how long even though it’s been less than an hour since I cooked it!). You may stir it gently every now and then to encourage even frying on all sides. But be gentle! Remove the okra from the skillet when it has turned a nice golden brown (see picture at the top). Put the hot dried okra on a plate covered with paper towels so that some of the oil can drain away. Season immediately with salt.
Okra looses its heat quickly, so be ready to eat as soon as its done. I do realized that I’m making this difficult for you since I can’t tell you how long the okra should cook =)
If you suddenly realize that you cannot fry the just-breaded okra because you do not have any batteries for your camera (possibly only a problem for food bloggers ) do not fear. Leave the okra in the Ziplock bag and throw it in the freezer until you’re ready to fry it. It will thaw out nicely on the counter or in the microwave.
If you should forget to buy batteries when you go to the store, remove the batteries from your child’s toy car, take the pictures, and then replace the batteries =)