Tag Archives: okra

FRIED OKRA, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, FRIED EVERYTHING

Our local farmers market is moving into full season. Corn is making a tentative appearance, and there are tomatoes in abundance – all sizes, shapes, and colors – in every vegetable stall. This last week we went to the larger market in Torrance and were surprised to find green tomatoes. I am used to seeing them later on as the season begins to taper off. Fried green tomatoes is to my mind one of the great Southern delicacies. We bought some. Then we saw okra! And the timing was perfect. Carol is away on vacation. She avoids okra as much as she avoids onions. I believe that her aversion arises from childhood. She grew up in Louisiana and spent many days in East Texas. She bought her lunches in the school cafeterias, and she declares (although I think it is an exaggeration) that stewed okra and tomatoes, along with collards that had been cooked beyond recognition, were served every single day. She insists that there is no preparation of okra that will pass her lips. My reply has always been that she just has never had okra prepared correctly. Then we all laugh at the standing family joke.

When we lived on the Texas-Mexico Border, I made the mistake of declaring that I didn’t like menudo. A co-worker informed me that I had never had HER menudo, and the next week she brought a big pot of the soup for lunch. Being a slow learner, I made the same comment at various gatherings, and the outcome was always the same: somebody would bring a batch of their lovingly made tripe soup.  And I would eat the soup along with the ever-expanding chunks of tripe. I still don’t like menudo. Never say you don’t like a particular dish. It will be seen as a challenge.

On the other hand, be very careful in saying how much you like a particular dish. Years ago, we visited Thailand where I was treated royally. The first night was a banquet where they served roasted suckling pig. As the guest of honor, I was treated to the crispy skin along with the tail and snout. I said how much I enjoyed it (I really did; it was delicious) so that for every evening meal for two weeks in various parts of the country, I was treated to roasted suckling pig complete with snout and tail. I have not eaten roasted suckling pig since.

Back to okra. I agree with Carol: tomatoes and okra is not a favorite. The dish seems to bring out the worst quality of okra, the slime. Deep-fried okra with a crispy corn meal coating is another story. In my view, it is delicious. Fried green tomatoes have a distinctive citrusy tang, but they are a variant of the same preparation method, along with hush puppies, fried catfish, battered cutlets, chicken fried steak, or even fried chicken. But that’s one of the things that makes Southern home cooking so good – frying. Think deep-fried Twinkies.

These recipes are not authentic. Usually you can just shake cut okra with some seasoned cornmeal and fry it. The slime binds the cornmeal to make a crispy fried coating. Same with the green tomatoes. Instead, I have used a flour-egg-buttermilk-cornmeal coating; I like the extra body (and calories) that the coating brings. I am certain that Carol would still not like the okra. I served the vegetables with battered pork cutlets. It was a very brown plate, and my mother would not have approved of the absence of green vegetable – collards, maybe?

RECIPES

Fried Okra, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Breaded Pork Cutlet

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (about) fresh okra pods
  • 3-4 medium green tomatoes
  • 4 thin-sliced  pork cutlets
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • bread crumbs
  • oil for frying

Method

  1. Wash the okra and cut it crosswise into ¾ inch rounds
  2. Cut the green tomatoes into ½ inch slices
  3. Dust the pork cutlets in flour and pound with the edge of a saucer to flatten. Turn over while pounding and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Dust the okra slices and green tomato slices with flour.
  5. Combine the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Dip the floured okra, tomatoes, and cutlets in the egg mixture. Then  dip in a plate filled with the bread crumbs until completely covered.
  6. Let the vegetables and pork  rest on cooling racks for 15 minutes.
  7. Fill a deep-sided heavy pot with 2 inches of frying oil. Heat to 350°F. Fry okra, tomatoes, and pork separately, turning frequently, until well browned. Remove from the oil with a spider and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a 170°F oven until everything has been fried. Serve immediately.

 

 

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FRIED OKRA

California is experiencing a heat wave, and Los Angeles is especially warm. My grandchildren’s schools decided to close early the other day because of the heat – the 90’s – even though the schools sit on the edge of the ocean with ocean breezes. The classrooms are air-conditioned as well. Never mind, the schools closed and parents were asked to pick up their kids, working or not. This decision set my daughter into a fit of pique, especially because she remembered her days in Louisiana where it gets really hot and humid, and the schools were not air-conditioned because the school board considered that a luxury.

Carol shared her disgust with her siblings via e-mail, and that stimulated a discussion of all the tribulations they endured while growing up. Among these, was the menu in the school cafeteria.

We moved to the South when the two older kids were in elementary school, and they had never had okra. They tasted it for the first time on their first day of school. And the second time…and the third time… and the fourth time… which is to say that stewed tomatoes and okra were served every single day. To this day, none of our kids eats okra.

Okra has a well-earned reputation as being slimy. That is especially so when it is boiled or when it is cooked with stewed tomatoes. As a result of this, many refuse to eat okra even though it is possible to prepare it in such a way as to avoid the slime. Mostly this is done by frying with one or another method.

This last week my wife accompanied me to the farmers market, and for old time’s sake, she bought some okra. The pods were beautiful and small so they promised to be tender and delicious. I deep-fried a batch last night, and neither my wife nor I was disappointed. Not a trace of slime.

Fresh okra pods

Fresh okra pods

Deep-fried okra

Deep-fried okra

RECIPE

Fried Okra

Ingredients

  • okra, leave whole if small or cut into 1 inch slices if larger
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • peanut oil for deep-frying

Method

  1. Wash okra in cold water and dry on a clean kitchen towel
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the beaten egg, buttermilk, and salt
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper until well combined.
  4. In a deep, heavy pot heat 3 inches of peanut oil to 350° F.
  5. Place the washed and dried okra pods in the egg and buttermilk mixture, coating them completely.
  6. One by one, transfer the okra pods to the flour/cornmeal mixture and then transfer to the heated oil, being very careful not to burn yourself.
  7. Fry the okra pods until they are well browned. With tongs, transfer the fried okra to several layers of paper towel to drain. Salt immediately.
  8. Keep warm in the oven at 170° F until all the okra is fried. Serve while still warm.

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DR. D’S LOUISIANA ANDOUILLE AND CHICKEN GUMBO

During this Christmas holiday, we were fortunate to have visits from two of our children and their families. Christmas is always a time to enjoy old family favorites, and since our youngest spent most of her growing-up years in Louisiana, we decided to make gumbo for our first evening. We lived long enough in Louisiana to learn how to make some of its classic dishes. We also benefited from lessons from some great cooks among our friends, some of them Cajuns. Nothing says “Cajun” quite as much as gumbo, and the great thing about the dish is that you can make it with whatever you like: oysters, shrimp, a mixture of seafood, duck, alligator, or whatever. This version, chicken and andouille sausage, is one of the most popular because the ingredients are readily available and taste so good together.

I don’t know where I got this recipe. Certainly it has been influenced by my friends, Reggie Graves and Ronnie George, but over the years I have tuned it and tweaked it so that I feel like it is “mine”.

When our daughter, Sarah, was in cooking school at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, as with all of the students she was responsible for preparing one family meal for her classmates. She chose to make this gumbo, and it was so popular that it was included in the official recipe book of the school. They called it, “Dr. D’s Gumbo”, and so here it is. It’s really very simple, but there are a lot of individual steps. You can take shortcuts, but if you do, it just won’t be real Louisiana gumbo.

Chicken stock. First, you make your own chicken stock. Actually, you start out with commercial chicken stock, but with your own vegetables, seasonings, and chicken, it becomes home-made and doubly rich. You will need chicken, commercial chicken stock, yellow onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and fresh tomato along with salt and black peppercorns.

The Cajun Holy Trinity. Second, you need to prepare your vegetables – the so-called Cajun Holy Trinity of onion, green pepper, and celery – before you start to cook. When you make the roux, you will be skating on the edge of disaster. It must be just the right color – as dark as you can make it – but if it burns, you will need to start over. The cut vegetables serve several important parts of the recipe. Of course, flavor is a major purpose, but stopping the roux from further cooking is equally important. That’s why you need to have it at your elbow to dump in the pot just when you think the roux is finished.

Roux. Third, you need to find the heaviest pot you have and the biggest metal spoon. Undoubtedly you have made a traditional French roux for béchamel or as thickening for various soups and sauces. That is not Cajun roux. The whole idea is to get the roux as dark as you can so that the rich smokiness flavors the soup. That requires constant stirring in a heavy-bottomed pot until your level of fear overtakes you. Any black bits – in other words, if it burns – you have to start over from the beginning.

Thickening.  As the roux darkens,  the flour loses its thickening power while adding to its flavoring power. As a result, there are two other ingredients used to thicken the soup.

First is okra. In fact the OED says that the word, “gumbo” comes from the Angolan word for okra. Many cooks prefer okra in the gumbo during the growing season. In the winter, when gumbo is guaranteed to take the edge from a cold day, filé becomes the preferred ingredient. There are many Cajuns who prefer filé for thickening all year long.

Filé is ground up dried sassafras leaves. If you live in the US South, you probably know where there is a nearby sassafras tree, and you can make your own filé. Aficionados swear it is by far the best to make your own. For the rest of us, there are several Louisiana food companies that sell filé in bottles. Once you buy your filé, the first thing to do is to transfer it to an empty Old Crow half-pint whiskey bottle to serve as your decanter on the dining room table.  Tightly stoppered, the filé keeps for a long time, but if you notice it has lost some of its thickening power, buy a fresh bottle.

Sausage. Traditionally, gumbo is made with andouille sausage. The Louisiana version is made with pork; the French version is made with chitterlings (I think you know what they are) so be sure you know what you are buying.  These days, most large super markets have andouille in the meat section, but if you have a hard time finding it you can substitute Polish kielbasa.

Spice. Gumbo can be as mild or spicy as you like. most folks from Louisiana like it on the spicy side, but food sensitivities in our family dictate a mild version. Fortunately you can add your favorite chile sauce to give the gumbo you prefer. Traditionally, Tabasco is often favored, but it has a vinegary punch that some don’t like. There are any number of other Louisiana hot sauces you can choose, or you can opt for Cholula from Mexico, or the current popular hot sauce, sriracha.

RECIPE

Louisiana Andouille and Chicken Gumbo

Ingredients

  • 32 ounce container of commercial chicken stock
  • 1 whole chicken, giblets and neck removed
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved
  • 2 ribs celery cut in thirds
  • 1 large carrot, cut in thirds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 or 4 stems of parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 whole black pepper corns
  • water to cover
  • 1 ripe tomato
  • 1½ pounds andouille sausage
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery chopped
  • 2 large green bell peppers, seeds removed and chopped
  • 5 scallions with green tops chopped + more for garnish
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil (You may use lard if you want to be authentic)
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • Louisiana hot sauce (optional)

Method

  1. In a large stock pot, pour in the chicken stock. Add the chicken, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, salt and pepper. Add water to cover the chicken. Then bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the chicken is done, about 45 minutes. With your hand, squeeze in the tomato, seeds and all. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Remove the chicken to cool until it is easy to handle. Strain the stock into a large bowl, and set aside.
  2. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin. bones, and any veins you might see. Cut the chicken meat into bite sized pieces and set aside.
  3. Cut the andouille sausage into 1 inch sections and then quarter each section. Set aside.
  4. Combine the chopped onion, celery, green pepper, and scallions in a large bowl. Place next to the roux pot so you can add it quickly to the roux before it burns.
  5. Using a very heavy pot and long-handled metal spoon, place the oil over high heat. As the oil begins to shimmer and just before it smokes, sprinkle the flour gradually into the oil while stirring constantly. The flour should sizzle as it hits the hot oil. It will start to darken immediately. Constant stirring is essential, being ure to scrape the corners of the pot. You can stop whenever the roux is colored to your liking, but Cajun moms will push it until it is almost black (ALMOST black – if you get some black flecks, it means that you have burned the roux and need to start over)
  6. Immediately dump in the chopped vegetables to stop the roux from darkening further. Stir. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent.
  7. Stir in enough of the chicken stock to get the consistency you want. Return to the boil. Add the chicken and andouille and simmer for another 30 minutes to meld the flavors.
  8. Correct the seasoning with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.
  9. Serve in a large soup bowl over a heap of cooked white rice. Pass chopped scallions, filé, and more hot sauce so that all can suit themselves.

 

A bowl of chicken and andouille gumbo

A bowl of chicken and andouille gumbo

 

File in the obligate Old Crow bottle

File in the obligate Old Crow bottle

 

Your choice of Louisiana hot sauces

Your choice of Louisiana hot sauces

 

Apot of gumbo ready to be served over rice

Apot of gumbo ready to be served over rice

 

Cooked chicken ready for the gumbo pot

Cooked chicken ready for the gumbo pot

 

Andouille sausage

Andouille sausage

 

Gumbo base simmering

Gumbo base simmering

 

The Cajun Holy Trinity stirred in to stop the roux from darkening too mucn

The Cajun Holy Trinity stirred in to stop the roux from darkening too mucn

 

Roux beginning to cook but it needs to get a lot darker than this

Roux beginning to cook but it needs to get a lot darker than this

 

You need the biggest metal spoon you can find to keep you from getting burned with Cajun napalm

You need the biggest metal spoon you can find to keep you from getting burned with Cajun napalm

 

The bowl of chopped vegetables ready to be dumped into the roux

The bowl of chopped vegetables ready to be dumped into the roux

 

Chopped vegetables

Chopped vegetables

 

The Cajun Holy Trinity

The Cajun Holy Trinity

 

Cooking the chicken to also make a double-rich chicken stock

Cooking the chicken to also make a double-rich chicken stock

This recipe should easily serve 8 to 12 hungry people

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