I love fried okra. But I’m not a fan of the heavily-breaded, deep fried stuff that’s passed off as “fried okra” at most southern restaurants. I learned to make fried okra from my mom. Every batch she makes is perfection. I’m not there yet, but mine is pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.
Our approach to fried okra is to toss the okra in cornmeal. No batter. If the okra is fresh it will have enough sap to allow some of the cornmeal to adhere for a slightly-breaded taste. We also often add some squash and/or sliced peppers to the same pan and cook them together. Heavy breading overwhelms the taste of the okra and adds nothing but add calories.
Two caveats at the outset: First, It’s nearly impossible to make one or two servings of fried okra and cook it properly. To do it right, you need to make a skillet-full. At least four or five servings. Second, you really should use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. When I bought my house last year it came with one of those “newfangled” ceramic-top stoves. I love the look but I can no longer use my iron skillet for stove-top cooking. At least that’s what I’m told. I rented a house one year that had a ceramic-top stove and I used the cast iron skillet the whole time I was there and never saw any sign of damage. But I don’t want to press my luck!
Step One: Wash and slice a sizable quantity of fresh okra.
Step Two: Wash and slice several small, tender yellow and/or zucchini squash. You can skip this step if you are doing okra by itself. In addition to liking the taste of fried okra and squash together, by adding squash I’m able to get cook a full skillet for myself (I’ll leftovers, of course). As I mentioned, to get good results with fried okra you must be cooking more than one or two servings. The amount of okra shown in the pictures above isn’t enough, so I needed the squash to fill the skillet.
Step Three: Toss the okra and squash with about one-half cup of cornmeal. It’s best to use plain, old-fashioned cornmeal, not the cornmeal mix (which contains flour). It doesn’t matter whether you use plain or self-rising cornmeal.
We also like to include a few sliced and diced peppers. This round, I used a few banana peppers and a few Cayenne peppers. I don’t mind a bit of heat but I typically remove the seeds before dicing, just in case. I don’t want to take a chance that the peppers overwhelm the taste of the okra.
Step Four: Spray your skillet (cast iron, if possible) with a nonstick cooking spray, add about 1-8/ to 1/4 cup of cooking oil and heat to medium-to-medium high. I use canola oil for making fried okra, even though it’s probably GM (something I try to avoid as much as possible). The amount of oil you need depends on how much okra (and squash) you’re cooking. You can add more later, if needed.
Add the okra (and squash, if applicable) to the hot oil. Let it sizzle for a few seconds, then stir and reduce the heat to medium or slightly lower. You want the oil to be hot enough to brown the okra and squash slightly but you don’t want it to stick. I tend to lower the heat again after a couple of minutes on medium. Sometimes, it’s necessary to add a bit more oil.
Near the end of the cooking time, I’ll add a dash or two of salt. Self-rising cornmeal has salt in it, so the amount of salt will depend on the type of cornmeal used. I’m not a big salt person (never have been) and salt can always be added to veggies at the table.
Step Five: Stir regularly to make sure the veggies don’t burn or stick. I usually cook for about 15 minutes total. If I’m cooking other things that aren’t yet finished, I’ll turn heat down to very low-to-warm and stir again every now and then.
Step Six: Enjoy your fried okra!
Note: These photos are from two different batches of fried okra. When I was making the first batch last Saturday I didn’t think about doing a blog post until I was about to toss the okra and squash in cornmeal. I made it again on Monday and shot a couple of more pictures to demonstrate the entire process.