The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

The Unbearable Lightness of Fried Okra

September 2nd, 2010 · 2 Comments · Posted in dinner, Recipes

Vegetable for a hot planet?

Vegetable for a hot planet? Okra loves heat and humidity.

It’s official. This was the hottest summer on record in the District of Columbia.

With meteorological summer having ended Aug. 31, our local weathermen tell us that we experienced a mean high temperature of 90.2 degrees and overall temperature of 81.3 degrees. The previous records were 89.3 and 80 degrees. So far, we’ve had 58 days of temperatures above 90 degress. It’s unlikely we’ll surpass the record set in 1980 of 67 days of above-90 temperatures, but 2010 should move firmly into second place.

I was thinking about this last night as I stood at the kitchen counter in a kind of pleasant trance, cutting and frying okra for dinner. If this sort of heat is the new normal, I wondered which of our favorite vegetables were likely to do best. Most plants are stressed above 90 degrees. Photosynthesis slows. I do believe the heat impaired our tomato and cucumber production this year, and caused more fungal rot on our summer squash.

What did well? Our greens beans were undeterred. We harvested a bumper crop. Our Tuscan kale and green glaze collards also seemed to be unfazed. But the standout has to be okra, which seems to not just tolerate but actually enjoy intense heat and humidity. As far as producing those pods we love to turn into stews and braises, it picks up the pace as the mercury rises. In fact, at this time of year we really need to check our okra twice each day or the pods race out of control.

I use the very biggest pods for cooking, and save the smaller ones for pickling. It’s hard to tell just by looking at an okra pod whether it is still edible or has grown tough and fibrous. Size is not necessarily a sure-fire guage. Yesterday, for instance, I harvest many pods that were much longer than I would normally like–six inches or more–and they were still perfectly tender. The only way to tell for sure is to slice into them with a knife. If you hear a sound like cutting paper, they’re gonners. Throw those in the compost heap.

I planned to serve okra with grassfed ribeye steak that arrived Tuesday from our dairy and a pork sausage rope, both grilled over charcoals. To fry the okra, I use our home version of a deep-fat fryer. Not everyone has one, but I consider this one of our most prized kitchen tools, since it makes frying so convenient. You simply adjust it to the temperature you want and turn it on. But if you don’t have one, use a heavy pot. Don’t fill it more than halfway with oil, or you risking it boiling over. My preferred oil for frying is canola oil, which is largely mono-unsaturated, even more so than olive oil, much less expensive and taste-neutral.

I set up a fry station consisting of a bowl of egg whites beaten to a froth with a little water, and a separate bowl of finely-ground white corn meal seasoned with fine sea salt and garlic salt. You could also add onion powder or other seasonings. Cut the okra on an angle about 1/2 inch thick, coat it in the egg wash, then toss it in the corn meal. Carefully lower the battered okra into the oil and fry to a light brown. Drain on paper towels.

I followed this procedure one large pod at a time, hence my meditative state. Once you’ve finished frying the okra, you can keep it warm in the oven while you grill your steak and sausage rope.

All you need to do now is pour a glass of your favorite red wine and sit down to a wonderful end-of-summer meal in your air-conditioned kitchen.

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  • Carrie

    You can also pan fry okra, that’s what I do. Just get a good coating of oil in a non-stick pan, coat your okra (I use crushed crackers), and be sure to flip them so both sides get golden. Perhaps a little more labor intensive, but it works well if you don’t want to do the deep fat frying thing.

  • Kathryn

    I bake my okra in the oven. Coat with egg and then almond meal and parmesan cheese. Put on cookie sheet and bake for approx. 30-40 minutes at 425. Turn them about every 12 minutes or so til desired brownness is reached. Delicious!