Hurry! Hurry! Okra in South Carolina is almost out of season! Go gather it up from the little shack on the corner or from the farmer’s market or from your own garden (props to you, if so, and take a bow) because it’s gonna be skedaddlin’ out of here pretty soon and won’t be back until next year!
Picture me stepping down from my little soap box on the street corner.
Okay, I’m telling you this a little late. So hold me down and stab me with okra pricklies and rub okra slime in my hair. I’m okay with that. Okra likes hot temperatures, so it tends to fade out of South Carolina around October…ish. Not a big deal. It doesn’t take long to slice and fry some up. Actually, real traditional Southern fried okra isn’t deep fried at all. It’s just tossed in a little cornmeal and pan-fried with salt and pepper, a contribution from Africa in the 1700s. It’s delicious that way and it’s delicious deep fried.
(deep) fried okra
5 cups oil (something mild, like peanut), for frying
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper (you may use more or less)
1 lb fresh okra, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
Heat the oil in a large skillet (cast iron is preferred; it has excellent heat distribution) or Dutch oven to 350 degrees (hot, but not smoking). Fill the pan, at most, half way up the side with oil. You may end up using more or less than five cups.
Combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper in a bowl. Dip the sliced okra in the buttermilk and then dredge in the flour mixture until well coated. I usually add one of the slices to the oil to test the temperature. If the oil sizzles up around the okra and you can hear it, it’s probably ready. If the oil isn’t hot enough, the okra will just sit there.
You may need to cook the okra in batches as to not overcrowd the pan. Shoving everything in there at once causes the oil’s temperature to drop, resulting in okra that chills out and soaks up the oil, AKA soggy and not crunchy. This recipe will feed about four people (depending on where your friends are from, wink) and you can easily double it. Or triple it. Or quadruple it.
Cook the okra until golden brown. It doesn’t take long, so just keep your eyes on the okree! Remove the slices from the oil onto paper towels and serve immediately.
(Eating freshly cooked okra is like getting pizza mouth [please, go to 7:40]. You KNOW it’s hot. You KNOW it’s going to burn. But, heck, you grab ‘em and pop ‘em anyway, and it is perfectly acceptable. That beautiful deliciousness just can’t wait.)
Okay! So, South Carolina is sputtering out its last breaths of air for okra (sigh, sigh, cry, cry), so if you are a summer person, cook ‘em up now to get your last fix before the chilly months settle in! If you are a winter person (like me, yes!), have no fear. We are getting some good stuff, too. Root veggies, anyone?