Southern Fried okra is a summer dinner favorite! Tender fresh okra is dredged in a light coating of finely ground white cornmeal and fried to a crispy, golden brown in hot peanut oil.
Today I’m sharing with you a southern heritage recipe for an old favorite, Southern Fried Okra. Now, I know that okra is one of those vegetables that people either love or despise. There’s not much middle ground with okra, it seems.
I fall firmly into the okra-loving group. Pretty much any way you prepare okra, I like it. In the past, I’ve shared my recipes for a quick side dish of Okra and Tomatoes and my Pickled Okra. But this post features my most favorite way to cook okra and that is fried!
Now don’t run away just because you saw the word “fried.” I know fried foods have a bad reputation. I know all about what fats can do to your heart, etc. However, I firmly believe that an occasional indulgence in foods that give you great pleasure is good for the soul.
I don’t eat fried foods every day or even every week. For one thing, frying makes the whole house stink for days. I don’t like that. But it’s worth it for a plate piled high with this crispy fried okra.
If you’re looking for a recipe for fried okra without egg and without buttermilk, you’ve come to the right place! Traditional southern fried okra recipes don’t coat the okra with a wet batter. I personally think that it’s too heavy for this delicate vegetable and all you taste in the end is fried batter.
Traditionally, we southern cooks use a simple light coating of finely ground white cornmeal with salt and pepper. Very simple. The lighter coating gives the okra itself an opportunity to crisp up during the frying process. Much better than all that gooey batter.
- Fresh okra (fresh is greatly preferable to frozen for frying; it’s typically available from June through August in markets throughout the south)
- Cornmeal (any time I use cornmeal in a recipe, it’s typically finely ground white cornmeal because that’s what was used when I was growing up and learning to cook; plus I just think it’s superior in texture and taste to yellow cornmeal)
- Peanut oil (recommended both for taste and because of its stability at higher temperatures; but you can use any oil that has a high smoke point)
What is Okra Anyway and Where Did it Come From?
Okra is an interesting plant that is native to West Africa and is believed to have come to America about 300 years ago. It’s in the same family as cotton and hibiscus and has beautiful blossoms. If you want to know more about okra, there’s a good article on WikiPedia.
How to Choose Okra
When choosing okra, be sure to select pods that are bright green and about 3 inches or less in length. Those will be the most tender. Avoid the larger, more mature pods. Those will give you a “woody” end product that you won’t like.
How to Make Fried Okra
Let’s Go Step-by-Step
I always like to show you the photos and step-by-step instructions for my recipes to help you picture how to make them in your own kitchen. If you just want to print out a copy, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you’ll find the recipe card.
Wash and Dry the Okra
Rinse the whole pods under running water and lay them on a paper towel or kitchen towel to dry for a few minutes.
Prepare the Okra for Frying
Using a sharp paring knife, slice off the top and tail from each pod and then slice crosswise into approximately 1/2 inch pieces. It’s not strictly necessary to remove the tops and tails, I just like mine to have a more uniform appearance.
Place the slices in a large bowl and lightly sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Toss lightly to distribute the salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the cornmeal into the bowl over the sliced okra. Using your hands, toss until each piece is well coated.
How to Fry the Okra
I’ve included the photos above to give you an idea of what the okra looks like during the various stages of frying.
Pour oil to a depth of about 3/4” in a heavy cast iron frying pan. Heat the oil and test for readiness by dropping a piece of the prepared okra into the pan. If it immediately begins to bubble the oil is ready for cooking.
I recommend peanut oil for most fried foods. Peanut oil has a high smoke point and won’t break down at the higher temperatures needed for frying. It also imparts a lovely flavor to the crispy fried okra.
Carefully transfer some of the okra to the hot oil. Add enough to make one layer in the oil and be sure not to crowd the pan.
I use a large, metal slotted cooking spoon to transfer the okra both to and from the oil. The slotted spoon allows excess cornmeal to drop back into the bowl and when removing the okra, it allows excess oil to drain back into the frying pan.
Cook in two to three batches until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Each batch takes about 4 or 5 minutes to cook depending on how hot your oil is. As each batch finishes cooking, remove it to a plate lined with paper towels or a wire rack to drain. Sprinkle very lightly with additional salt if desired.
Scaling the recipe
This recipe as written serves two. However, it very easily doubles, triples…whatever.
- Make sure the oil is good and hot before adding the okra.
- Use a large slotted metal cooking spoon to stir the okra a few times while cooking. But be careful as too much stirring can dislodge the coating.
- Lightly salt the okra while it’s still hot.
- For spicy fried okra, add a quarter to a half teaspoon of cayenne to the cornmeal.
- A bit of smoked paprika in the cornmeal makes for a nice change.
Fried okra is one of those recipes that’s just so much better to make and serve immediately. Like most fried foods, it’s not at its best when made ahead or leftover.
Almost anything! However, if you want to serve a very typical and traditional southern dinner, add your fried okra as a side dish with fried chicken, fresh butter beans, creamed corn, and cornbread. Yum!!
People often ask me what fried okra tastes like. Well, it tastes like okra. Okra that has been fried. Honestly, if I had to compare it to something more familiar, it might be popcorn. And, no it is not at all slimy. Not in the least.
Okay, while I can in no way try to pass a fried vegetable off as healthy, I can say that okra itself is very rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber. And, as you know, fiber promotes healthy cholesterol levels and digestive tract. So there’s that. :-)
Southern Fried Okra
- 1 pound fresh okra pods
- ⅓ cup finely ground white cornmeal
- salt and pepper to taste
- Peanut oil
- Wash and dry the okra pods. Remove the top and tail from each pod and slice crosswise into approximately 1/2 inch pieces.
- Place in a large bowl and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add cornmeal to bowl with the sliced okra. Using your hands, toss the okra in the cornmeal until each piece is well coated.
- Pour oil to a depth of about 3/4” in a heavy cast iron frying pan. Heat the oil and test for readiness by dropping a piece of the prepared okra into the pan. If the okra immediately begins to bubble the oil is ready for cooking.
- Cook the okra in two to three batches until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Do not crowd the pan.
- Remove to a paper towel lined plate or a wire rack to drain. Sprinkle very lightly with additional salt if desired.
- When choosing okra, select pods that are bright green and about 3 inches or less in length. Avoid the larger, more mature pods.
- Test the oil for readiness by dropping a piece of the prepared okra into the pan. If the okra immediately begins to bubble the oil is ready for cooking.
- I recommend peanut oil for most frying. Peanut oil has a high smoke point and won’t break down at the higher temperatures needed for frying.
- Cook the okra in two to three batches until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Carefully transfer some of the okra to the hot oil. Add enough to make one layer in the oil and be sure not to crowd the pan. I use a large slotted cooking spoon to transfer the okra both to and from the oil. The slotted spoon allows excess cornmeal to drop back into the bowl and when removing the okra, it allows excess oil to drain back into the frying pan.
Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.