The other day, Grammy Award winner Dan Wilson mentioned his disdain for okra on Twitter, declaring the vegetable “gooey no matter how nicely prepared.”
I took the opportunity to give him some unsolicited advice, telling him to “put some funk on it.” As it turns out, the okra he had sampled most likely had more than ample “funk” because he later tweeted that he had been eating at Sylvain, a well-received and hip restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Mr. Wilson is not alone in his opinion. My local coop had none to offer, and when I asked if it was a question of seasonality, was told, “No, not really. It’s more that nobody seems to like it and it just sits on the shelf.”
Okra’s detractors typically complain about the slime, which truth-be-told, flows with abundance from the vegetable when freshly cut, and can be a bit of a turn-off.
Many traditional recipes use the slime to their advantage. Thick and flavorful soups, like gumbo, with African roots and voodoo-like abilities to satisfy, use okra as a primary thickener along with filé and dark roux. Fried okra is well…fried, and therefore beloved in the south. Also, the crisp breaded exterior acts as a foil to okra’s gooier innards. Often okra also makes its way into the pickle jar. The salt and acid in the pickle brine nullifies the slime by way of osmosis, as the slime leaches into the brine.
I enjoy eating and cooking okra, perhaps due to my childhood years spent on the Mississippi gulf coast. At home, making gumbo, fried okra or pickles are simply too time consuming, and I usually take a more simple approach. The method I use embraces okra fully in a simple home cooking way, tastes great, and nicely avoids the dreaded slime.
For one pound of okra, trim the stems and cut it into ½-inch slices.
Next, slowly panfry the slices in a thick-bottomed pan with a good tablespoon of butter and a healthy pinch of salt. The key here is to take it slow with heat set to medium-low. Let the heat of the pan pull out the slime as the surface slowly caramelizes. During the first five to ten minutes, slime will seep from the cut okra. Gradually it will dissipate and the okra will begin to brown and soften. The process should take roughly 15 minutes to fully cook and brown.
I hope some of you okra-phobes give it another shot. I have a feeling Dan Wilson had okra prepared as well as it could be, and for him and okra it might just be closing…aw forget it.