Sometimes sweet summer pleasures come early in the South. As Michael and I walked toward our local farmers market last week, Michael looked at me and said, “Maybe they will have okra!” I sweetly stated it was probably too early in the season for okra. Honestly, I didn’t want to be disappointed but secretly hoped there would be some too.
As we got closer to the market, the first thing to catch my eye was a wooden crate filled to the brim with pinky-sized okra pods. My heart skipped a beat. The first okra of the season! I quickly grabbed a bag and began picking through the precious pods. Almost immediately my hands started to sting a little. The lady tending the market noticed I began itching the back of my hands. “It’s from the okra, isn’t it?” I nodded that indeed it was, but this little bother was about to be well worth it.
Whenever I returned home, I laid the emerald beauties on white marble and gently began smashing the ends of the okra with a wooden pestle. As soon as I inhaled the grassy scent of fresh okra and listened to the symphony of sizzle as the cornmeal batter hit the hot oil, I knew I was right. In life, the good far outweighs the bad, and in the end, there’s fried okra.
There are some ingredients that beg to be transfigured and transformed like a strawberry pleading to be roasted and paired with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or sweet white corn steeped in cream, creating a lovely base for a summertime ice cream. But then there are those ingredients I can’t help but prepare the same way, time after time. I have yet to find a more comforting use of okra as being bathed in buttermilk and tossed in cayenne and cornmeal and quickly fried. I believe frying okra is the way nature intended it to be prepared. Why else would it endure and thrive in the Southern summer so much if it didn’t love to sizzle?
Recipe: Smashed Cayenne + Cornmeal Crusted Fried Okra
Adapted from Southern Living | June 2014
Makes 4-6 Servings
Note: The original recipe leaves the entire okra pod whole, without cutting off the tops. Personally, I eat the pod whole, but after serving these whole, I found the fried tops left on the platter. So, I decided to take that extra step and cut the tops off since most people don’t like eating the entire pod, but it’s completely optional!
1 pound of fresh okra, washed and dried
1 ½ cups of buttermilk
2 cups of fine yellow cornmeal
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil, for frying
Using a flat kitchen utensil like a pestle, meat mallet or even the bottom of a Mason jar, gently smash the okra, starting at the fattest part of the pod, working your way down to the skinny tip of the pod.
Optional Step (see note): Once the pods are smashed, cut off the woody top (or the “head”) of the okra pod. (I acted like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland yelling, “Off with your head,” at this step to keep myself entertained, you may do the same!)
Place the buttermilk in a shallow dish, and place the cornmeal and cayenne pepper in another shallow dish. Season both the cornmeal and buttermilk with desired amount of salt and pepper.
Dip the smashed okra into the buttermilk and dredge in the cornmeal, shaking off the excess.
Pour oil to a depth of 2-inches in a large cast-iron skillet. Heat to 350o. Fry the okra in batches, 2-3 minutes or until golden and crispy, turning once. Remove the okra and drain on paper towels and season lightly with kosher salt. Devour immediately!
27 replies on “OKRA WHEN IT SIZZLES”
I´ve never had okra, so no idea what its original taste is. In my imagination, it´s a little bitter like a green pepper, but actually I don´t know. Your recipe sounds so tempting, for the unknown okra on the one and the well loved method of frying things on the other hand. So I guess I should try okra really, really soon!
Oh my goodness! I wish I could send you some ASAP… It’s one of my favorite vegetables ever!
What a great idea! I’ll be trying this for sure, as I never really know what to do with okra other than cook it with curry spices. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the kind words! This is my all-time favorite way to prepare this lovely summer vegetable!
Okra is a delicacy that I have not had a chance to try. Your sizzling okra look wonderful and I hope that someday I’ll have the opportunity 🙂
I hope you are able to try it soon! It’s a staple at my table in the summer. My husband and I can polish off an entire pound of fried okra in about 5 minutes flat! It’s addictive…
Oh yum!! I definitely need to try this. I’ve never made anything with okra before!!
This is a classic way to use okra, so it’s perfect if this would be your first okra dish! I hope you enjoy!
Now if fried okra isn’t Southern, I don’t know what is!! I’ve never had it smashed, but fully intend to try this as soon as okra hits the Atlanta markets 🙂
Yes! My husband saw me smashing the okra, and he looked at me and said, “You’re ruining it.” I just looked at him and told him to trust me! Smashing the okra increases the surface area and creates even more crispiness to the dish! It’s lovely…
One of my favs beautifully photographed! Very well done, as always! I have 8 okra plants going so far this year, to be split evenly (almost) between gumbo, pickling, and frying. 🙂
Thanks for the sweet words! I’m jealous of your okra plants! Have you ever tried oven roasting them? Yum…I like you’re strategic thinking! I’m usually a thoughtful planner, but when it comes to okra, all bets are off! They end up in almost every dish in some form or fashion during the summer!
Oh absolutely! Roasted with fresh corn, onion and tomatoes, pure heaven! You should try growing okra. It’s easy, and the smaller 2-3 foot varieties work beautifully at the back of flower gardens or along fence lines.
I need to, but I have a loft which means no garden space 🙁 That’s the only negative thing!
Made ’em last night….Success! And too hard to describe the goodness. My favorite okra 4evah!!
They looked awesome! We will have to make 2 pounds next time we are together! A pound for you and a pound for me!
I’ve been a fried okra fan for years, but I’ve never heard the smashing tip before. That should definitely help the pods that are a little woody. Now I just have to wait for okra to reach NYC.
It’s definitely a revelation! I love picking the okra pods that are tender and no longer than my pinky. To me, those make the best fried okra!
I bought okra yesterday just for your recipe, as this is all I have been thinking about since I saw it on Instagram. Curious, what is the benefit of smashing the okra?
That’s awesome! Smashing the okra opens the pod and increases the crispy surface area of the okra! I noticed it also rids the okra of the “slimy” texture people aren’t too keen on. All in all, it makes for a more crispy fried okra! I hope you enjoy!
I was raised on fried okra. My family eats is like popcorn. I always wash and slice and then soak in buttermilk or sweet milk. Drain and dredge in cornmeal and then fry. Drain on news paper and salt. It is very addictive. I always cut on the tough stem end. I am going to try cooking the okra like this recipe calls for and see how my family likes this version. Fried okra is really delicious.
I grew up on frying okra that way as well! I love picking out the smallest okra I can find and frying them whole like this. I hope it will be a new family favorite at your table this summer!
Okra….one of those ingredients I have yet to try. It’s a bit hard to find here but I’ll definitely keep looking for it so I can make your decadent fried okra. This may be the perfect treat for warm summer evenings. xx
I really hope you can find okra all the way over there this summer! I wish I could fly over there and fry you some okra! I think you would love it!
[…] fortheloveofthesouth.com […]
[…] has been lovely. I’ve had my fair share of ruby red tomatoes, emerald okra, summer ice creams and fruity lemonades. Now, it’s time for smoky, roasted meats, speckled […]
[…] fortheloveofthesouth.com […]