AB: You know, Sid, I'm impressed that you would even take on a client like okra.
It's an art house choice. He's the Steve Buscemi of the vegetable world.
SM: Are you kidding? He's my most important client.
AB: Yeah, I'll bet he's also your only client.
SM: Yes, but we have a bit of an image problem. It's the, er ...
AB: ... slime.
SM: Exactamundo! I begged him to get some rehab.
AB: Are you kidding? It's not his fault. If it's a problem, it's because of bad cooking.
SM: Oh, that's what we've been saying all along! But you know, when you've got a bad reputation, I mean, you, you're really in a ...
AB: ... pickle.
SM: Brilliant idea!
SM: The pickle thing. Oh-ho, yes. Oh, they'll never see it coming.
AB: Oh, sure they will. Okra and pickles are really common ...
SM: No, no, no, no, pish-posh. Look, we'll get him out to all the studio heads. I'll get on the phones. You do the cooking. Ha ha ha ha ha. Pickles ...
AB: Look, Sid, you know, I never got paid for that whole vanilla thing.
SM: The check's in the mail!!
AB: I just, I don't know if it's really smart for me to get tied in with another one of your clients right now.
SM: [excited muttering]
AB: [being beseeched by the okra] Alright, just don't get any slime on my shirt, okay?
Okra is the seed pod of Hibiscus† [sic, Abelmoschus,
see note] esculentus, a member of the mallow [sic, or more accurately,
Malvaceae] family. You may have heard of okra's cousin, the marshmallow, whose gooey
interior was once the basis for the eponymous treat, the marshmallow.
Now, the pods grow upright, like little candles. So when the weather turns hot
in the summer, they grow very quickly indeed, moving from flower to full-grown
pod in only about a week. Now since mature pods are tough and fibrous, the best
specimens are harvested between two and three inches in length.
Now when buying, look for firm, but not hard pods with a nice, bright, uniform color. Now green is certainly the most common, but red, white, and purple varieties are also available. And don't worry, they all taste the same.
Now, as for the so-called slime, the inside of an okra pod is full of a substance called "mucilage". Sounds yummy, doesn't it? It's a thick, gooey material, made up of carbohydrate molecules, tangled up with proteins. Now the mucilage's job is to help retain water and store food. It's the same stuff that makes cacti such successful desert dwellers. Now mucilage is interesting stuff, culinarily speaking, because when it comes into contact with hot liquid, like water or broth, the starch granules absorb water, swell, and ultimately burst, releasing amylose and amylopectin, that grab the surrounding water. Thus, okra becomes a wonderful thickening agent for soups and stews, which is why gumbo wouldn't be gumbo without that okra slime. [takes a bite] It's not very good raw, though.
GUEST: Lady of the Refrigerator
Storing okra means keeping it cool, but it also means keeping it absolutely as dry as possible, because surface moisture will hasten decomposition. So you'll want to avoid plastic bags whenever possible, because, of course, they're not exactly known for breathing ... if you know what I mean. A paper bag, placed in the warmest part of the chill chest, which is usually the top shelf, will be best. Regardless of the care you take, okra goes south quickly, so try to use it within a couple of days of purchase.
AB: Behold, the Lady of the Refrigerator!
LADY OF THE REFRIGERATOR: Alton, I'm not very happy with you right now.
AB: What have I done to displease you, my lady?
LOTR: You were about to close the refrigerator door and not even mention the significant health benefits of okra.
AB: [firmly] No I wasn't.
LOTR: Methinks you are a big fat liar.
AB: You think I'm fat.
LOTR: Well, no. A little pudgy, maybe. But since okra a such a good source of dietary fiber, eating a little more might be good, and it also packs a significant hit of vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate which is especially important in the development of babies during pregnancy.
AB: Which really wouldn't be an issue for me, now would it?
LOTR: Don't crack wise with me, sonny.
AB: Sorry, ma'am [closes the door].
One final note on moisture: although I often advocate the washing and drying of
produce before introduction to the chill chest, okra is an exception. No washing
until you are ready to use. [looks at his belly] Pudgy?
[AB is reading, The Big Book of Culinary Truths] "A pickle can be any food that has been preserved via soaking in a solution or rub that creates an environment hostile to microbial agents." The pickle may be a brine as with sauerkraut, an acidic marinade as with bread and butter pickles, or an alcoholic mixture such as in the case of Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards. Now in the case of okra, we will take the acidic route.
But first, we must concern ourselves with the vessels. [AB moves to a boiling pot of water filled with canning equipment] Granted, the acidity of our pickles will probably dissuade a ny microbial invasions. Still, sterilization is completely necessary if you hope to safely store the results for any length of time. So, four one-pint canning jars and their rings and their lids and a ladle and a pair of tongs go into boiling water for at least 10 minutes.
Fresh okra is available from late spring through early fall.
Frozen of course, you can get year round.
Remove the jars to a cooling rack, and allow them to cool down until they are safe to handle. Then place in each jar, one small whole dried chile that has been split in half along with a half a teaspoon of mustard seed, four sprigs of dill, one clove of garlic, and a quarter teaspoon of peppercorns, that is, per jar.
1 Small Whole Dried Chile,
Split In Half
1/2 tsp. Mustard Seed
4 Sprigs Dill
1 Clove Garlic
1/4 tsp. Whole Peppercorns
Now as for the okra, we will need two pounds of young pods. No more than two to two and a half inches in length, washed and trimmed at the stem to about half an inch. Now we are going to divide these evenly amongst the four jars. Stand them up vertically alternating stems up and down. That's going to allow you to get more into the jar. [looking up at us] Of course I washed my hands. By the way, the pickling really ought to be going by now.
|2 Pounds Whole Okra|
Place a medium saucepan over medium heat and add two cups of water as well as two cups of rice wine vinegar. Now rice wine vinegar is slightly less acidic than red wine vinegar or cider vinegar, so don't go using substitutes there. Follow that up with four tablespoons of kosher salt and bring it to a boil. Now, you don't want to let it boil too long or it will become even more acidic. Because, of course, acetic acid boils at 244.6 degrees Fahrenheit ... but you probably knew that.
2 Cups Water
2 Cups Rice Wine Vinegar
4 Tbs. Kosher Salt
Time to introduce the hot pickling solution to the party. And the goal here is
to cover the pods while still leaving about a third to half an inch of what's
called headroom—airspace—at the top of the jar. There. Just evenly dose that
out. Now if the pods are poking out of the solution a little, that is okay. As
the acid works on them, they'll break down and settle a bit. There.
Now, the lids you wish to handle with your tongs, okay? Because they come in contact with the food. Just lay those on top. The rings you can use your hands on. And just barely finger tighten. There, now put these someplace cool for a couple of weeks and we'll have pickles.
SM: [tastes a picked okra] Umm. Fresh,
crisp, just a little spicy. A little naughty, a little nice. And no slime!
AB: No slime.
SM: Ohh, we're going to hit the 'cukes on the condiment aisle. Think of the picnic possibilities. Ohhh, and the fast food! Got to get on the horn!
AB: [to the okra] You know, if Sid has his way, you're never going to be able to just, you know, be yourself. You're never going to be able to show what's inside. I tell you what, don't worry. I'm going to make sure that people know the real you, okay?
OKRA: [gives AB a hug]
AB: That's good.
Although okra certainly takes well to pickling, the procedure removes much of
what makes okra okra, and that is, of course, the ...
SM: ... slime.
What okraphobes may not realize is that the gooey extract can be put to good use. And I could think of no better use, than fried okra. Shall we?
Okay, we need a pound of okra; and we are not going to wash it right away. First, we cut off the stems and then cut the okra pods into quarter-inch pieces which will then go into a colander. Then, we rinse all of this very, very briefly with cold water, drain briefly, and then move it into a bag, a zip-top bag containing half a cup of cornmeal. Just get that all in there. We don't want too much water removed. Seal, and give that a good shake.
1 Pound Okra
1/2 Cup Cornmeal
|And now we move to the fry phase. Behold, we have a ten-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. In the skillet, just enough vegetable oil to cover. And that has been brought to 370 degrees is what we are looking for. You could either do this with an old-fashioned probe thermometer or one of these sexy newfangled infrareds which I like a lot. Oh yeah, we are good to go.||
Vegetable Oil To Cover
Bottom of Pan
Now you want to get the okra in in one big mass. There we go. Now you can shake
down the sides just a little. We're basically wanting this to cook in one big
mass, kind of like a giant okra patty. Just let this sit for about seven
minutes. No stirring!
Now it is time to flip the device. I do not suggest you attempt this at home. Heck, I probably shouldn't attempt it at home. But hey, you only live once. [pan tosses and spills a few pieces] Oh well, I got most of it. And we'll let this cook for another three to four minutes.
Perfect. Now stir it up a little bit, just to kind of break up the chunks, and continue to cook for about another three, maybe four minutes.
Now turn this out onto your draining rig—just a cooling rack and a piece of newspaper on a sheet pan—and salt liberally. There. The next step ... Wait. We have worked hard to trap a good bit of moisture in there and it is still piping hot. So, let these cool down for a minute or two before you devour everything in site.
SM: Ewww, that still looks slimy to me. You said no slime!
AB: No, I said that we would make them ...
SM: ... slime ...
AB: ... work for us.
SM: Uh hmm.
AB: Alright, look, for the okraphobes out there, I can make a couple of small changes that will produce a, er, well, we'll say, a "fried okra light" that'll still taste great ...
SM: ... less slimy?
AB: Sid, why don't you go make a couple of calls.
SM: Oh, a couple of calls. That's a good idea, yes.
AB: Use my phone. It doesn't matter.
SM: It's a local call.
Alright, this version of our dish will feature the same exact ingredients, but with a couple of little shifts in procedure. Instead of cutting the pieces and then rinsing them, this time we will rinse, drain, and dry the entire pod before slicing into quarter-inch rounds. Then, after dredging the pieces in cornmeal, we will return them to the dry colander and shake off a majority of that cornmeal. See, the goal here is to prevent the spread of the ...
SM: ... slime!
... interior fluids out into the batter. We're also going to shift to a wider pan. In this case, say, a 12-inch sauté pan, with just enough oil to cover the bottom. You're going to place that over medium-high heat. And for those of you with an infrared thermometer, we'll be looking for 370 degrees on that oil. Good. Now by giving the individual pieces more space during the cooking process, we'll have less accumulation of the ...
|12-inch Saute Pan|
SM: ... sliiiiiime.
... moisture, which will make for less ...
SM: ... slime.
... product. Fry to golden brown, about five minutes. I'm going to come over there.
SM: [off camera] Not in the face!
Each September, Checotah, Oklahoma hosts Okrafest,
a celebration of all things ... you know.
With this much open pan real estate, you're going to drive away a lot of the
moisture that we were trying to keep in the mass during the first version. That
is going to result in okra that is drier, crisper, and a lot less ...
SM: ... slimy.
Overall cooking over medium-high heat, about ten minutes. And if you do this in
a pan with sloped sides, odds are good you could just toss the okra every now
and then and forego the use of spoon and spatula. When it's golden brown and
delicious, simply turn out onto your draining rig, season, and serve.
[AB is sitting on the couch the Okra] Transfer to the bowl of your choice, pop in your favorite DVD, and get to munching.
SM: [talking on a cell phone] Marty, that's just what I wanted
to hear. You're the best, buddy. You're the best. Hah! [hangs up the phone] Okay boys, forget the fry business. Guess who just
got a part in the new Broadway musical, "Gumbo-homa"?
AB: Gumbo. It's a supporting role, man.
SM: [covering the face of the okra] This pod's already got a rep for having a bad attitude. He needs the work.
AB: Look, I would have an attitude problem, too, if people only wanted me for my thickening power. You've got to stop denying this pod its culinary heritage.
SM: Don't you go filling this pod with all sorts of funny ideas. Just when we're starting to get a handle on this slime issue.
AB: Slime, slime, slime. It's all you ever want to talk about, is the slime.
SM: Eeech ...
AB: Eeech ...
SM: Eeech ...
AB: Eeech ...
SM: Get off me.
AB: [to the okra] Let me tell you something, if you don't find a way to push past this whole slime business, you're going to regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life. Now I think the first step is that we need to take a real look at your family history:
You know, most culinary historians believe that your family's birthplace was at the Abyssinian center, a region that includes parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and The Sudan. From there, you migrated westward across Africa and then, against your will, across the Atlantic, most likely as the part of the meager possessions of African slaves.
Ahh, now that was pretty cool, huh? You know, people might like you more if you
smiled every now and then. [okra tries to adjust it's face, which is impossible]
Oh, you're right. It's not your fault. You're fabricated that way.
Few flavors meld with the funky vegetal vibe of okra better than the warm jazz snap of tomatoes, especially when they are brought together by the warm low heat of a stew.
|Now, we have here a pound of medium-sized pods, rinsed and trimmed and also cut in half. You just want to slice them either up the middle or on the bias. Now if you encounter any pods that are especially large, say, over three inches, you'll want to trim them, split them, and then also halve them thusly.||1 Pound Okra|
|While you have a knife handy, go ahead and chop up two medium red onions. You'll need a total yield of about a cup and a half there. Go ahead and mince one tablespoon of garlic and fresh ginger, and roughly chop two cups of tomatoes. Those will need to be peeled.||
1 1/2 Cups Chopped Red
1 Tbs. Minced Garlic
1 Tbs. Minced Fresh Ginger
2 Cups Peeled & Chopped
[a scene from "Peachy Keen" plays where the skin was removed from a peach in the way described] The easy way to do that is just drop them into boiling water for about 15 seconds then move them to an ice water bath for about half a minute. The skin will simply rub right off. And yeah, I know that's a peach, but it's the same principle. Besides, they're both fruits.
With the slicing and dicing done, we can now face the heat. I have a large saucier—a four-quart saucepan would do—over medium heat. We will lube that up with about three tablespoons of olive oil and then we will introduce the onions to the party. And to that, one and a half teaspoons of salt ... kosher salt, of course. There we go. Let these cook until they're soft and slightly gold around the edges, I'd say four minutes tops.
3 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
That looks good. Now we add the garlic and cook for, eh, say, another minute.
Next up on the roster, the tomatoes. Put those back on the heat, and bring the mixture to a boil.
Why's okra so mad? He's the Delta State University
Fighting Okra mascot ... really.
Now as for seasonings, like so many ancient ingredients, okra takes on new
dimensions when illuminated by an equally old spice. Where did I ... Ah, there
it is, Grains of Paradise, a.k.a. [Aframomum] meleguena or Guinea
peppers. Now these are not actual peppercorns, but rather the
pungent seeds of a West African plant related to ginger.
Now these little babies have a nice, sweet front end on them. But back behind that, well, there's a heat that is ideal for okra enhancement. Now you could substitute black pepper for Grains of Paradise, but the final dish would not lead you as far down the exotic byways of authenticicism ... whatever that means. Anyway, I find that a ceramic mechanism peppermill is the best for delivering this essence.
It appears that our boil has recovered, so let us bring the spices on. We need half a teaspoon of our freshly ground cardamom, Looks about right. One teaspoon of the Grains of Paradise. Wish you could smell this, but you can't. Not available at your local megamart? You can always find it online. The ginger, the last of the aromatics. And finally, the okra. And just mix that in. We're going to drop the heat to low and just barely let this simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the okra is nice and soft, but not mushy.
1 tsp. Freshly Ground
1 tsp. Freshly Ground Grains
There, see? Soft, but not mushy, and definitely not slimy. Now, all we have to do is serve.
SM: [tasting the okra] Mmmm. Slimy, oh, but good. So, okra is a foreign food.
AB: That's right, Sid. In fact, the word "okra" comes from ancient Ghana.
AB: In Africa.
SM: Oh, ohhh. Fantastic. My boy is multicultural.
SM: He is international.
SM: We can sell that, yes.
SM: But I still have an issue with this slime thing, evenrr if in name only. [to the okra] What do you think of the term "okra-esque"?
Well, I hope that we have convinced you to cast okra in your next culinary cavalcade. Yes, it'll take a little bit of getting used to, but I promise you, if you give okra a chance, okra will give you ...
SM: You want this cook to be your next agent? Why you low-down. Oh, you're nothing but an ungrateful bucket of slime. [okra stands up, as if indignant] Huh, what're you going to do about it, Slime Boy? Huh? [okra lands an uppercut on Sid, who falls out of the camera frame]
Wow, that dish packed a punch. Ha ha. See you next time, on "Good Eats".
†This is the old species for Okra. It is now classified as species Abelmoschus.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010