The Secret to Southern Fried Okra

Let’s cook fresh okra. It’s time to take advantage of this vegetable which is plentiful the summertime in the South and is easily grown in a garden here. I’ve discovered several delicious ways to fix okra since moving to Louisiana. “Southern Fried Okra” is one of those iconic recipes. My recipe is easy — using common household ingredients. It is crunchy and perfectly seasoned. The breading actually sticks to the okra for the most part. You may not want to purchase commercially breaded okra after eating this recipe. Give it a try!

Although I often grow okra in my garden in the summertime, this year I didn’t get any planted. The local open-air produce market sells fresh okra, so I went and picked out a pound. For this recipe, only select small okra — less than 4 inches in length — as these are the tender ones. Leave the large ones for some other recipe.

Southern Fried Okra isn’t the lowest fat method for cooking okra but it sure is tasty. So cook it just once in a while. My recipe uses ingredients — except okra — that you probably already have on hand.

The “secret ingredient” in this recipe is using plain yellow cornmeal for the breading. The course texture makes the okra flavorful and crunchy. The photo shows a package that I happened to have on hand — but many brands of cornmeal can be substituted. Examples are Quaker Yellow Corn Meal, Pioneer, Aunt Jemima, Hodgson Mill Corn Meal Yellow Plain. Don’t use a cornbread mix or self rising corn flour or Masa Harina corn flour for this recipe — you just need good old-fashioned yellow corn meal..

I added several spices to the cornmeal to obtain a flavorful, seasoned breading. Nothing too overpowering, but just a little extra flavor. I added onion salt, garlic powder, paprika, a little salt and hiding is cayenne pepper (just use a pinch).

The Secret to Frying Okra

Frying okra so that the breading sticks to the okra and also doesn’t burn can be a challenge. But I think I have a fix for that problem. The trick is to use plain milk — not buttermilk — and let the chopped okra soak in a combination of milk and egg for 15 minutes or so prior to frying. The moistened okra adheres to the breading during frying. Breading does not stick to dry okra. And in my opinion, buttermilk makes a breading which is too thick which also causes the breading to fall off.

For frying, I have tried many methods but finally realized that some sort of deep fat fryer is needed. So I use my trusty iron skillet. You need only a minimum of oil this way and the heavy skillet cooks evenly and retains heat well. You could also use a Dutch oven or deep fat fryer. I use peanut oil for frying — it is more saturated but also is more stable for this cooking method. Don’t be tempted to try using olive oil for deep fat frying or a poly-unsaturated oil such as sunflower oil. They will smoke up your house. Canola oil, however, can be used.

Invest in a good thermometer. This digital one can be used for both frying and making candy (such as pralines around the holidays — which I hope to do.). It allows you to set the target temperature of 350 degrees F. and beeps when the oil reaches that temperature. You know exactly when to turn down the heat of the burner just a little.

Fry in small batches so the temperature of the oil won’t drop too quickly. You only have to fry the okra about 3 minutes on the first side and a minute on the second side. Then let the okra drain on paper towels and continue batches of okra until all is cooked. If you are thrifty person, the oil can be filtered through a double layer of coffee filters into a jar for a second frying session. The oil does pick up odors, so use for a similar recipe.

Here’s the fried okra. My husband did the frying this time and I’d have to say that he did a good job — both in frying and eating the okra. He’s ready to make another batch. And after trying this recipe, you may not want to use commercially breaded okra again — we think that this fried okra is that good!

Southern Fried Okra

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: moderate
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    • 1 lb small, fresh okra pods, 4″ in length or less (4 cups when trimmed and chopped)
    • 1 large egg
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
    • 1 tsp paprika
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • 1/2 tsp onion salt
    • 1/2 tsp salt (optional)
    • dash cayenne pepper
    • peanut oil for frying

Method and Steps:

  1. Rinse, sort and drain okra pods. Cut off caps and stems and cut crosswise into 1/2″ pieces.
  2. In large bowl, beat egg until blended. Add milk and stir.
  3. Add cut okra and toss to combine. Let set for 15 minutes.
  4. In a second medium-sized bowl, combine cornmeal, paprika, garlic powder, onion salt, salt (optional) and dash of cayenne pepper.
  5. Pour several inches of oil Into medium-sized heavy cast iron skillet (or small heavy Dutch oven or deep fat fryer). Add enough oil to the skillet to cover the okra. Using thermometer, heat on high temperature on stove until temperature of oil reaches 350 degrees.
  6. Drain off excess milk/egg and add about 1/4 of the okra to the cornmeal breading mix and toss to combine. Using tongs,shake off excess breading.
  7. Add breaded okra to heated oil. Turn stove temperature up or down to keep at 350 degrees. Cook okra 3 minutes. Carefully turn over and cook an additional minute until golden brown.
  8. Using slotted spoon, gently remove fried okra and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
  9. Return oil to 350 degrees. Continue to fry batches of okra until all is cooked.

NOTE: The oil can be filtered through a double layer of coffee filters into a jar and reused one more time for a similar recipe.

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