Fried okra. It’s a southern classic, and I love it so much. My grandparents were farmers in northern Mississippi, and fried okra was part and parcel of their usual midday meal, which also usually included field peas, cornbread, fresh onion, and peppers. A country dinner like this is pure comfort food for me. But unfortunately when I made a country dinner I didn’t usually cook fried okra, because, well, I wasn’t really satisfied with it.
My grandmother always just tossed it with some cornmeal, put it in a skillet with a spoon of bacon grease, and turned it with a spatula. It’s a taste that I grew up with, it’s easy and it’s good, but it’s also just not well executed — it’s kind of a mess. On the other end, the fried okra available at most restaurants is frozen bagged bland nuggets, with what seems like an emphasis on the breading instead of the okra.
And then I went to the Root, and I had some of their fried okra, and it was exactly what I was looking for. It was discrete pieces of okra, unlike my grandmother’s, and it was tasty, unlike the usual restaurant fare.
Jack Sundell graciously gave me their method and recipe, which is one of the many reasons why The Root is a place that deserves its business. But of course, The Root has a fryer. I don’t mind frying on the stovetop, but honestly it’s a hassle. Worth it for fried chicken, but maybe not so much for a side, no matter how good. But I was determined, and so I decided to try a method somewhere in the middle of the two. And it produced some really excellent fried okra.
First, of course, the ingredients:
- 1 lb okra
- 1 pint of buttermilk (I never have buttermilk, so I just mix milk and greek yogurt in 3:1 ratio, which works great)
- 1 cup AP flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
Oil: approx 1.25 cups of lard (which is quite easy to make on your own). Or you can use vegetable oil or Crisco or whatever you please.
Melt the lard in a skillet over high heat. Now is the time to note the location of your fire extinguisher. I used a ten inch skillet, and a cup of lard brought the oil to about half an inch deep, which is perfect for covering a chunk of okra.
Cut the okra, and put it in the buttermilk. Then put about a third of the batch in a strainer so the excess buttermilk can drain away. Then pop it in the dredge and roll it around until it’s covered. Then I put it back in a strainer so the excess dredge can come off, too. If you have two strainers, use one for the buttermilk and one for the dredge — dredge and buttermilk together will clog up one strainer pretty quick. Just bump it with your hand. When the oil is about to smoke, carefully put the okra in.
After 4-5 minutes (stirring once midway) they should look pretty golden. These guys will need another light sprinkle of salt when they come out. They’re pretty damn delicious, and a perfect complement to a greens, peas, and cornbread dinner.