I love little fried bits of things--shrimp, hushpuppies, onion rings, green tomatoes--but I've found a new favorite thing to satisfy that crunch-crunch, home-fried crispy urge. It's fried okra. Growing up, I never used to go for it, while the rest of my family inhaled it by the handful, especially when it came from my Southern-cooking grandma's kitchen. I think okra had too much of a deep, earthen, brown taste...it was bitter, like Brussels sprouts. It seemed, to my palate accustomed to raspberry Zingers and spaghettios, almost burnt. Of course now I can't seem to get enough, and I think it's the oddness of okra that I find so wonderful. There's really nothing else quite like it.
Frying okra is the easiest time I've ever had frying anything at home, period. The pieces are small; they're easy to bread; you don't need a ton of oil; and they take just minutes. It's virtually impossible to undercook them. They tell you when they're done by turning a flirtatious golden brown...hubba hubba. And because I just love to put fried things in salads, I thought their perfect croutonish size and shape shouldn't go to waste. Add a little crumbled bacon, chopped up veggies fresh from the garden, and a super-easy buttermilk dressing, and get to crunchin.'
fried okra croutons
- 1/2 pound fresh okra, trimmed and sliced 1/2" thick
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- enough vegetable or canola oil to fill a 5- to 8-quart pot with about 1" of oil
- In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and cayenne. In another smallish bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some freshly ground black pepper.
- Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat until it's about 365 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer to check, just let it heat for about 15 minutes, and you can test one piece of okra after you have it breaded. If you drop it in and it floats and sizzles, it's good to go. If you drop it in and it immediately starts turning brown, it's too hot.
- While the oil is heating, bread the okra by dipping a small handful first in the buttermilk, then shaking off the excess and dropping it into the cornmeal mixture, turning to coat and absorb the buttermilk.
- When the oil is ready, carefully lower the okra pieces into the oil (you might want to do this in two batches, just to make sure the okra aren't too crowded). Keep a close eye on them, because they'll be golden brown and ready to remove in less than 5 minutes. The exact amount of time varies depending on the temperature of your oil.
- Remove the okra with a strainer or slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Sprinkle a little more salt on them while they're still warm. Serve as salad croutons, or just as crispy snacks with some buttermilk dressing.
makes enough for 4 salads.
note: you can use a deep skillet, but you may gets lots of sticky oil splatters on your stove to deal with.
super-easy buttermilk dressing
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlicky seasoning, like Cavender's, or a mixture of garlic powder, dried oregano, dried thyme, salt, and pepper
- 1 teaspoon Creole mustard (or any grainy or regular mustard)
- Mix everything up in a bowl and taste it to make sure it's good. Add more than 1 teaspoon of seasoning if you think it needs it. You want it to be a little strong, because once it gets mixed into the salad, it loses some of its intensity.
- That's it!
makes about 2 cups, plenty for 4 salads with some leftover. You can add some sour cream to the leftovers and use it as veggie dip the next day.