Fried okra - a deep south favorite! Tender okra dredged in finely ground white cornmeal and fried to a crispy, golden brown.
Today I'm sharing with you a heritage recipe for an old favorite, Southern Fried Okra. Now, I know that okra is one of those vegetables that people either love or hate. 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.
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 the 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.
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.
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.
If you're looking for a recipe for fried okra without egg, you've come to the right place! Traditional southern fried okra recipes don't coat the okra with eggy batter. And I personally think a wet batter is too heavy for the delicate okra and all you taste in the end is fried batter.
Traditionally, we southern cooks use a simple light coating of seasoned finely ground white cornmeal. 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.
How to Make Fried Okra
Wash and Dry the Okra
Rinse the whole okra 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 top and tail from each pod and then slice crosswise into approximately ½ 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 sliced okra in a large bowl and lightly sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Toss lightly to distribute the salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the cornmeal into the bowl with the sliced okra. Using your hands, toss the okra in the cornmeal until each piece is well coated.
How to Fry the Okra
Pour oil to a depth of about ¾” 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. Or use the trick in this post for Real Simple Fried Chicken to test the oil.
Note: I recommend peanut oil for frying okra. 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.
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.
Each batch takes about 4 or 5 minutes to cook depending on how hot your oil is. As each batch finishes cooking, remove the okra to a paper towel lined plate 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.
Can it be made in advance?
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.
What do I serve with this?
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, corn on the cob, and cornbread. Yum!!
What does it taste like?
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.
Is it healthy? At all?
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. :-)
More Heritage Recipes on Never Enough Thyme:
- Southern Butter Beans
- Chicken Jallop
- Easy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
- Southern Fried Quail
- Caramel Layer Cake
Okra Recipes from Other Bloggers:
- Seared Okra and Tomatoes from Simply Recipes
- Small Batch Pickled Okra from Food in Jars
- Grilled Okra from Add a Pinch
- Smokra from No Recipes
- Roasted Okra from Clean and Delicious
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- 1 lb. 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 ½ 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 ¾” 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.
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.
Lana Stuart is the cook and occasional traveler here at Never Enough Thyme. Lana has been cooking since she was tall enough to reach the stove and started this blog in 2009 to share her delicious home cooking recipes. You'll find about 700 recipes here so there's sure to be something your family will like!
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