Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sweet Home Alabama

One of my favorite parts of living in the deep south is the selection of what we call Meat-and-Threes—essentially cafeterias serving up homestyle Southern food. A typical plate consists of a meat, such as pot roast, fried catfish, or fried chicken, and three veggies, such as slow-cooked green beans, collards, macaroni and cheese (while not actually a vegetable, it's considered one here), and my favorite, fried okra.

When I was little, we often ate at Picadilly Cafeteria, and I always—and I mean always—ordered fried okra as a side dish. Even the mediocre frozen kind (which is what you most often find) is good to me.

So when our CSA box had a bag of fresh okra, I knew what I had to do. I looked and looked for a recipe and found lots of fancy varieties, but in the end, I decided to go simple. Buttermilk and hot sauce, a dredge of cornmeal, and that's it. Even Jason, who's never liked fried okra, had a handful and enjoyed it. It was okra at its finest. Hot, crisp, and delightful.

{soaking in buttermilk & hot sauce}

Failproof Fried Okra
serves 2, but can easily be doubled

1/2 pound fresh okra, stems removed and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
Tobasco or Frank's Red Hot (or similar)
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup cornmeal
Fine-grain salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Place okra in a bowl, and cover with buttermilk and hot sauce. Stir to combine and coat fully. Let sit for 20 minutes while the oil heats. Pour oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, high-sided pot to a depth of 1 inch, and heat over medium-high.

Put the cornmeal in a shallow bowl, and add a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Set aside. Remove okra from buttermilk mixture, shaking off excess. Dredge half of okra in cornmeal mixture.

Sprinkle a pinch of cornmeal mixture into the oil. If it bubbles quickly, it's ready. Carefully place the breaded okra in the hot oil, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. If the breading browns very quickly, turn the heat down.

Drain on a plate lined with paper towels; repeat with second half of okra. Serve hot.

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