Sunday, February 15, 2009

Stuck on Okra - Cajun Fried Okra with Rémoulade Sauce

Cajun Fried Okra & Remoulade Sauce

Love it or leave it. Nearly everyone has at least one comestible that they would rather push off their plate than push into their hungry mouth. Some would even require the prying open of jaws to remotely entertain the gustatory "horrors" of cilantro, offal, aubergine or eggs. But how many of us have made the valiant effort to broaden one's palate enough to actually enjoy an ingredient once anathema to us? Such is my own case with okra.

It started, as most of these things do, with early trauma. No matter how cute those Campbell's Soup Kids, their charm was lost every time my mother cranked the thin lid off yet another can of gumbo. Gumbo is good stuff, but I couldn't get passed the occasional pallid chunk of mushy okra floating like flotsam amid other, but not nearly as unidentifiable, vegetables. Of course, it didn't help that okra has a reputation for a certain textural quality, whether described in either clinical or vulgar terms, that could hardly help a sensitive seven-year old to be more open minded and forgiving.

But now, as a responsible adult with a food blog to feed, I have found that intractable opinions can sometimes conflict with the spirit of curiosity and the pleasures of sharing new discoveries. While there is no guarantee that I can persuade anyone to try an ingredient out of their comfort zone (we are all entitled to our tastes, no matter the origin), I am a living testimonial that you can cure okraphobia. Now, if only I can get over my fear of spiders.

"Cajun King" Okra
Very fresh okra, home grown by my mother at my
request, Summer 2008. That's how much I love it.
Variety: "Cajun Delight"

Okra 1

Cajun Fried Okra - My own recipe

Ingredients

20 fresh okra pods*, no longer than 4 inches long
2 tablespoon oil
2-3 tablespoons prepared Cajun blackened seasoning (available in your grocer's spice aisle); a homemade recipe can be found here
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)


Method (N.B. - It is critical that your kitchen is well ventilated; open a window and/or use the exhaust fan over your stovetop. Skillet will become very hot. Use of an oven mit to hold the handle is highly recommended.)

Rinse okra pods briefly in cold water, then pat fully dry with paper towels. Cut off stem and tip ends of each pod and discard them. Cut remaining pods crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (see second photo above), laying them out on a fresh paper towel without letting them touch each other.

Over medium-high heat in a very large skillet that does not have a non-stick finish (cast iron preferred) heat the oil for about 10 seconds until it thins. Add the seasoning, pushing it through the oil with a large metal spoon or pancake turner (do not use plastic).

Blot okra with additional paper towels before adding it to the hot skillet. Immediately begin tossing and turning it to coat each piece. Turn up the heat slightly and continue to toss, turn and flip the pieces; keep them moving to expose all their surfaces to as much heat as possible. You will do this for at least 10 minutes or until the very fine strands of stickiness (they will look like melted sugar threads) begin to dry off and disappear. The pieces can touch each other briefly, but again, keep them moving. Lower heat back to medium-high and begin tossing less frequently so that crispy blackened edges and light scorch marks can develop. Total cooking time will be 20-25 minutes and fully attended; you must devote your full attention. Okra will be done when it has shrunken by at least a third of its raw size and no sticky moisture is evident when you press a fork against it. Remove from heat, sprinkle with optional salt and serve immediately. Some spice mixture will be lost and stuck to the skillet. This will not diminish the flavor. Wait until the skillet partially cools before adding water to clean it; it will otherwise "explode" in a huge head of steam from the stored heat. Serves 2. --

* Tips for selecting and storing fresh okra:

- Choose pods that are firm, unblemished and small (see first photo above). Larger pods are tougher and will contain more of the offending moisture.

- Seek out an Indian or Caribbean grocer. Cultures that routinely use okra in their cuisines will have a high turnover of produce and the best specimens.

- Carefully wrap uncut pods in single layers between paper towels and place in a large unsealed plastic storage bag before placing on an uncrowded shelf of your refrigerator. This improves circulation and minimizes condensation. Keeping the pods intact until just before use prevents leaking of moisture.

- Use as soon as possible, preferably within 2 days. Though still edible, success lies in the freshest pods that are not allowed to sit too long and get soft.

Cajun Blackened Okra

Rémoulade Sauce - My own recipe

Ingredients (to be prepared at least a few hours in advance)

1 tablespoon dried tarragon*
1 tablespoon dried chervil*
1/8 cup very hot water
1/2 cup mayonnaise (reduced-fat varieties** work well, but will be sweeter)
2 tablespoons ketchup **
1 tablespoon robust, stone-ground mustard
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4-6 drops hot red pepper sauce
1 heaping tablespoon capers, drained and finely chopped
2 heaping tablespoons finely chopped cornichons or other pickles (either sweet or savory)
2 tablespoons raw shallots or red onion, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Method

Add dried tarragon and chervil to hot water, reserving while you prepare the rest of sauce. In a medium bowl, whisk to combine mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, horseradish, vinegar and hot pepper sauce. Drain tarragon and chervil (they will be partially reconstituted), and stir them into the mixture with capers, pickles, and shallots or red onion. Stir in black pepper. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for a few hours to allow flavors to develop and dried herbs to fulling moisten (if you are using them). Prior to serving, taste for minor adjustments according to your personal taste: salt, tang, heat and sweet can be tweaked with very tiny additions of caper juice, vinegar, red pepper sauce and sweet pickle. Serve alongside the fried okra. Serves 4. --

* If using fresh herbs, double the measures, chop them coarsely and dispense with the hot water. Add them at same time you would the dried.

** Many bottled mayonnaise (particularly those with reduced fat) and ketchup are prepared with high fructose corn syrup. If you are avoiding this ingredient, organic brands generally use natural sugars in their recipes. Please check the labels.
Remoulade Sauce

This post is for Cheryl of Gluten-Free Goodness, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging #170, the latest round-up of the long-running food-blogging event created by Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, and now officiated by Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once.

Been There, Done That ~

Indian Spicy Fried Okra (The recipe that converted me.)
Baked Zucchini Fries
Radicchio di Treviso Gratin


Other People's Eats ~

Dried Okra
Okra and Tomatoes
Potato Okra Curry


25 comments:

  1. I ve never seen okra here. I wonder what it tastes like. They look good though. I just want to grab one and taste it :)

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  2. Everything you make looks wonderfully appetizing. I think I have more than one thing I'd rather starve than eat. However, none of them are vegetables. I also have more than one items that I went from loathing to loving. It's a good thing that we do change in life. I particularly like the photo of the sauce.

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  3. I remember that soup!! I, too, adore okra--it's truly one of my favorite veggies. I've made a fabulous Indian curried version but this looks incredbile. I am definitely making this--thanks for the recipe!

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  4. I LOVE OKRA!!!!! I get so excited whenever I see an okra post... your okra looks delicious and I like the look of your remoulade as well.

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  5. i'd never have thought of okra and mayo in the same breath! This is one of my favourite vegetables.

    in India, a test for good okra - if the tips snap neatly when you bend them, they're good. The grocers are resigned to this.

    In my State, a man who's past the prime of youth and unmarried still is likened to an old and un-tender okra.

    Never thought of okra and vulgar together :-)

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  6. i think i fall under the rare category of people who love okra! :)i bet the cajun spice compliments this well..

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  7. Sounds like a good way to eat okra - something I have rarely encountered but I did have it at a friends where I found it was quite nice with fondu when freshly cooked but did go mushy quite quickly - I admit it made me a little wary of it because it seems to need to be treated with kid gloves!

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  8. I've come to believe that most people who hate okra have never had it properly cooked. It's hard to believe that anyone could eat your Cajun-Fried Okra and not like it.

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  9. i am an okra lover too...and okra is a frequent vivitor in my kitchen as everyone in my family loves these lady's fingers....my kids call it
    'star upkerri" meaning a dish which looks like lots of stars...:)

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  10. I like it, I only used the frozen in a gumbo, and it came out great. But you have definitely inspired me to give the fresh a try, and with Cajun seasoning, it sounds terrific!
    LL

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  11. You right is love it or leave it. In my case I love it, unfortunately I never heard Okra here in Argentina. You make my mouth watering at 8 in the morning. Bad girl ;)

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  12. Thank you so much for posting this remoulade recipe!! I can't wait to try it!! :)

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  13. You are speaking my language here with the okra. I LOVE this vegetable and eat it every week!

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  14. I love fried okra, but I have only had it breaded and fried not like this.

    I'm stealing that remoulade!

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  15. Never been a big fan of okra. It's the goo factor that gets to me. But I have actually tried it and liked it when it was cooked in a way that eliminated the goo, and this recipe looks like it did that. So, OK - I'm willing....

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  16. Ahhh fried okra...love it, have you tried squeezing a liitle lime juice on it ? The sauce looks wonderful too, wondering how it would taste with okra

    Sandeepa

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  17. First time to your blog i guess,you have a wonderful blog out here.I love Okra's and i've never tried made them with cajun spices.Bookmarked!

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  18. Susan..heard a lot abiut you n your event..:)..but its my first time to visit n comment..:)..Such a great space u have..:)
    Being an Okra fan,how could I resist drooling over this dish..thanks so much..n have a great weekend..:)

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  19. Thanks for your comments! I'll be back tomorrow to respond individually to them. Have been running late! Apologies. : }

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  20. My aunt called okra a deal breaker the other day when I tried to put in a dish. I like it pickled , fried, etc. These i like even more because its nit coated with batter .but just the spice.

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  21. Snooky Doodle - You've never seen okra at all? I have an older Indian recipe that is deep fried and spicy, too. Not everyone likes its texture, but when prepared well, there is no shadow on it.

    Simona - Thank you. It's a grand thing when we can overcome our past grievances to particular foods, but I don't think less of anyone who maintains their particular tastes. To this day, I cannot eat everything, nor do I aspire to do so.

    Ricki - That soup has been around for several years, still made by Campbell's after at least a few decades. I have no personal quarrel with Campbell's. My shelves are enjoying dozens of cans from that great bastion of Northeatern industry to this day. My introduction to okra, unfortunately, was processed and not the best.

    Jessica - Thanks! Okra does tend to have a bad reputation in these parts.

    Sra - I know how you feel about mayo; it can be terribly heavy and caloric. Okra does not generally enjoy a great status in the U.S., but I think it's b/c most of us do not know how to cook it wisely. I won't even deign to explain its Western vulgar adjective; it is gross, unbecoming and inappropriate. I think far more of okra to ascribe any unskilled attributes.

    Superchef - Okra does so very nicely when highly spiced.

    Johanna - Yes, okra does need special care, but it's still a worthwhile veggie if you take the pains to prepare it properly.

    Laurie - Here, here! A second your logic!

    Nandu - So very good to see you! I agree, they are like stars, and when cooked well, are quite divine.

    Lori Lynn - Thanks. I've used it frozen, too, but it generally needs more tending during cooking.

    Sylvia - Thanks. Oh, yes, I have been known to be bad in morning. : }

    Marlow - Welcome! I do hope you enjoy the remoulade. I took great pains to kitchen test it three times. Of course, it's always a matter of taste. Thanks so much for visiting!

    Cynthia - Glad you speak the same language; makes for so easier an understanding. ; D Okra is the bomb!

    Welcome, Mr. Orph! I've had okra bread and fried, and it is divine. Hope you enjoy the remoulade! It's fetchin'. Really. : ) Thanks for visiting.

    Sandeepa, sweets - A squeeze of lime is a lovely, lovely idea. Just a little dab of remoulade sauce per forkful is all that is needed for this particular recipe. So very good to see you. You have been missed.

    Nithya - Welcome! I do hope you try this dry-fried spicy Southern recipe. I think you will appreciate it! Very glad for your visit. Thank you!

    Dear Varsha - Thanks so much for coming for a visit here. Do hope to see you again. Shall come visiting you presently. : }

    Courtney - Thanks. Dear girl, I hear you for the okra. Now, pickled I haven't tried yet. You've planted the seed.
    I can only imagine how amazing it is stewing in vinegar and other savory ecoutrements.

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  22. Love okra and anything with okra in it! :)
    Don't buy it very often though 'cos it's a pain to cook with due to its clingy nature.

    Love your pics. You have made okra look very glamorous here.:)

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  23. I didn't care for okra too until I had them fried. Then I discovered how yummy they are. These look fab!

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  24. I love okra anyway it's fixed. Haven't seen any mention here of cooking it on the grill but it is FANTASTIC. Brush with olive oil then lightly salt and pepper whole okra pods (medium size seems to work best) and place on medium heat on grill. If you have one of those fish grilling baskets they work great for grilling okra. Cook approx. 5 min. per side. Okra is ready when slightly darkened. Enjoy!

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  25. Thanks for the tip, Gary! Grilling sounds like a great way to prepare okra. Hope to prepare it next summer.

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