Whenever it's fresh okra season, the first family favorite recipe I cook is crispy fried okra. Truly fresh picked okra is tender, tender. And when quickly fried, okra will crunch and dissolve in your mouth like popcorn.
The trick to cooking good, crunchy, fried (not greasy) okra is having enough cooking oil in the pot and at the right temperature. When it's just me and my husband eating fried okra, I use a small saucepot to get the job done. I fill the saucepot about 2/3 full of cooking oil. Using a fry/candy thermometer clipped to the side of the pot, I get the oil up to 385ºF before carefully dropping in the coated okra. I don't crowd the okra. I give them space to float around for up to 1 1/2-minutes. Then, they're done! One and half minutes is enough time to give the okra a light brown color. If you like your okra darker and crispier, go up to 2 minutes.
There's not a lot of moisture in okra, so going longer than two minutes will only cause the okra to absorb the oil. It's the moisture in the food that heats up in the frying process and turns to steam. It's the steam that makes the bubbling action in the hot oil and the bubbles are pushing the oil away from the food. When the steam is gone, then food begins to absorb the oil, resulting in greasy food.
Having the oil temperature too low makes greasy food, too. The moisture will still make steam and smaller bubbles, but it happens slowly thus allowing the food to absorb oil. Using a fry/candy thermometer ensures you get the right temperature and your oil doesn't get unsafely hot.
Let's start cooking.
HERE'S ALL IT TAKES
to make four servings
- 4 cups fresh okra, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch rounds, stem end discarded
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 2 to 3 tablespoons milk or water
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh pepper
Wash and cut up okra put in a large mixing bowl.
Beat egg with 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk or water together in small bowl. Pour over the cut okra and toss until the okra is well coated.
In another large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper. Add in the wet okra (try not to add in the extra egg/milk coating), and toss until the okra well coated with the dry mix. Set aside.
Fill a small saucepot 2/3 full of oil. Do not exceed 2/3 or oil will bubble over during frying. Heat oil over medium high heat. Using a fry/candy thermometer, heat oil to 385ºF.
Use a large slotted spoon to safely add coated okra down into the hot oil. The okra will sink to the bottom at first, then rise to the top when ready to take out. Fry up from 1 to 2-minutes, until light to golden brown. Scoop out okra with a slotted spoon, drain into a strainer that is set inside a bowl. Or drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Remove extra bits from the oil between batch cooking to keep the oil from smoking.
SAVE YOUR COOKING OIL FOR NEXT TIME
The same oil may be used over and over again if it is not overheated and if it is properly cared for after each use. For instance, after the okra is all cooked up, place a few slices of raw potato in the oil and cook for a few minutes. The potato will absorb any foreign flavors which the oil may have picked up from the food. Strain the oil through a very fine sieve or a coffee filter.
Get out a clean mason jar, a clean used lid and screw band, funnel and a paper coffee filter. Cone shape coffee filters work well for this.
Line the funnel with the coffee filter, set the funnel in the mason jar and filter the cooled oil into the jar. When all the oil is drained through, discard the coffee filter. Cover the jar with the lid and screw band. Keep frying oil in a cold place out of contact with air and light.
GOT LEFTOVER OKRA?
Heat the oven or the broiler on low and reheat leftover okra in about 5 to 7 minutes. Set the okra on a cookie sheet on the middle rack. Keep watch over the okra if using the broiler, it heats up fast and can easily burn. (Trust me.) It will be just as crisp as when it was fresh out of the hot oil the day before.