When my husband returned from the grocery store with okra yesterday my jaw hit the floor, for two reasons. The first is that okra is not easy to find in Italy, even at specialty vegetable vendors, much less at the grocery store. The second reason is that Emilio usually comes home with steaks and Nutella, definitely no vegetables, and definitely not okra. The man has a long memory when it comes to food, however, and remembered tasting Southern fried okra in Texas years ago. I immediately fried it up, using a recipe I feel I’ve known since birth, one I have never needed to consult and have never written down until now. The secret to the golden, crisp crust is using cornmeal instead of wheat flour for to coat the okra. Emilio’s eyes glowed when I presented him with this rare treat, an expression he usually reserves for non-vegetables. As we finished off the last warm, crunchy morsels, I secretly vowed to send him to the grocery store more often.
- 10-12 okra pods
- 1 egg
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- vegetable oil, for frying
Slice the okra crosswise in 1/4 inch pieces. Beat the egg in a small bowl, add the sliced okra and let soak for 5-10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, the oil should be about 1 inch deep. Using a slotted spoon, remove the okra slices from the egg mixture, shaking off excess, and toss in the bowl with the cornmeal mixture, coating evenly. When the oil is hot enough to make a toothpick or bread cube sizzle, carefully place okra in hot oil and fry for about 5 minutes, until the okra becomes crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.
I, too, am a southerner, raised on fried okra. Alas, for the last 30+ years, it has been a treat I have only enjoyed on rare visits home. Imagine my surprise when visiting Milan in August, I ran across a greengrocer in the Darsena with a window-full of okra and sweet potatoes (which I have also desperately, and vainly, searched for in the Veneto since reading in your book Buon Appettio America). I refrained from fainting and convinced the vendor to open the shop and sell me the last crate he had in stock that day. Most of which is now tightly packed in the freezer and ready for winter gumbo! But I did fry up a couple of skillets to the delight of family and friends.
Thanks so much for so generously sharing some of the best of American cooking and holding up our culinary honor here! Plus, the substitutes you mention occasionally for hard to find ingredients are excellent.
Beautiful okra! Mmmmm! Love that southern fried okra!