Okra is one of those vegetables that fascinates and puzzles people. Everyone seems to know that it can be slimy, but that’s what makes the batter stick!
I first had okra in Atlanta, Georgia. Yup, in the heart of the South, alongside chicken fried steak. And it was delicious.
Once I left the South in the 1990s, okra was not easy to find in either the Northeast nor the Midwest so I didn’t get a chance to make it on my own until nearly 15 years later when I landed in Washington, D.C.
A neighbor there was an older man from North Carolina and he grew it because he knew you couldn’t find it in the grocery stores. Not only did he gift me some of these wondrous pods, but he told me how to cook them:
“Cut off the tops and bottoms, slice into half-inch pieces and toss with just enough buttermilk to coat them for about 10 minutes. Then toss them with salt and enough cornmeal – grits – to coat them. Then fry them up in a pan of hot oil, just enough for them to sizzle, and eat with lots of hot sauce!”
I followed his instructions to a T and I have been a convert ever since! By the way, if you have never seen okra growing, google it and be amazed! They grow straight up from their stalks!
Another interesting tidbit is that this preparation is the same as for fried green tomatoes, another Southern classic. I highly recommend both!
Pan Fried Okra
20 okra pods (red or green, it doesn’t matter)
2-3 tablespoons buttermilk (or non dairy milk or even milk)
3-4 tablespoons coarse cornmeal, aka polenta
Oil for frying
Vinegar based hot sauce - I like Cholua (if you don’t like spicy, I’d use malt vinegar)
Cut tops and skinny tips off the okra. Slice them into 1/2 inch pieces and place in a bowl. Pour buttermilk over them and toss to coat in the liquid. You will notice the sticky stuff being released. Let sit for 10 minutes. Add polenta and pinch of salt and toss to coat. The polenta should stick immediately and the pieces won’t be stuck together anymore.
Heat a heavy-bottom skillet such as a cast iron pan over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add enough oil to coat the bottom in about ¼ inch layer. Pour in okra and try to arrange in a single layer. If you have an oil screen, cover pan and allow to cook for 5 to 8 minutes until one side browns; flip okra and cook on other side another 5 minutes until golden brown.
Serve with lots of hot sauce!