fried foods

Grandmother Phillips’ Fried Okra

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I remember my father’s paternal grandmother as a strong, Southern woman. She was a force. I only saw her on holidays but I will never forget her cooking, which we ate at home all throughout the year. She used to freeze her fresh-from-the-garden, hand-battered okra and we would take it home in bags every winter. That fried okra was a precious commodity, rationed carefully until the next Christmas.

Grandmother Phillips had a garden in her backyard. She grew everything in it. I remember describing her to friends as a farmer, though she did not sell her produce for a living. She canned and froze everything. She was an expert in preservation. Preservation of food and of tradition and of family.  The garage of her old home was lined with walls and walls of cans: cucumber, okra, squash, peas, peaches– you name it, she had it canned from her garden.

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At Christmas we would visit her home in (relatively) rural, northern Alabama and there would be an endless array of options. People would comment about how excessive the spread was, but Grandmother Phillips’ would never pare it down. Only after her death did I come to see how food is a love language for Southern folks, and I was (at least partially) descended from Southern folks, and my grandmother was showing her love for us by feeding us well.

After she died I remember looking into our freezer and seeing one last bag of her homemade fried okra. I don’t remember the last meal we ate with that one remaining batch of Grandmother Phillips’ okra, but I’ve been trying to recreate the recipe for most of my adult life.

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We recently joined a CSA program, which gives us plenty of fresh produce to consume weekly. Grandmother Phillips would probably call it lazy eating, but it gives us plenty of okra to experiment with and I have finally been able to get satisfactorily close to her fried okra.

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It has a ton of flavor and it freezes very well. It is easy to prep, as far as fried foods go, and it can be reheated in the oven, which I love for the easy clean-up.

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A single batch will serve five adults as a generous side portion, but we often dole out smaller portions and let half of it sit in the freezer for an easy side on another night.


Grandmother Phillips’ Fried Okra

(serves ~6)

Ingredients
1 cup whole milk*
1 tablespoon white vinegar*
2 pounds fresh okra
1 cup AP flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (just a dash if you don’t like spicy)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
canola or avocado oil
*OR 1 cup buttermilk


First, combine the milk and vinegar in a measuring cup. Let it sit for 15 minutes. (Alternatively: skip this step and use 1 cup buttermilk.)

Next, wash and slice the okra into 1/2″ – 1″ thick rounds.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the okra and milk. Let this sit for at least 20 minutes.

Then, in a large bowl, mix the remaining, dry in ingredients.

When your okra is done “marinating”, drain the excess buttermilk and toss it in the cornmeal mixture. I find it best to toss the okra in batches as to avoid the pieces clumping together.*

Pan fry in a high-temp oil over medium heat. I find that this, too, works best in batches and there is no need to keep the okra on one side and tediously flip every piece halfway through cooking. It is fine to toss them in the pan and shake it around every now and then to evenly brown each piece.**

Drain the okra on paper towels and sprinkle with a fine, table salt. After cooling, it can be placed in a bag and frozen for later.

*If you have the time and patience, batter each okra circle one at a time. Try to keep them as separate as possible!

**One of the greatest things about this okra is that each bite is a little different. It is fully homemade and thus “rustic” in both texture and flavor. Do not concern yourself over perfect knife cuts or even browning, as this okra should be a delicious, low-stress side!

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Dill Pickle Chips and Alabama White Sauce

 

picklesFried pickles are one of my favorite fried foods, and I love fried things, so that’s sayin’ something! These pickles are Cajun seasoned (though not very spicy) and coated in a very basic buttermilk-flour batter. In my opinion, the dill pickle is the only type of pickle that should be fried. The saltiness of the pickle is an absolutely perfect compliment for the crunch of the batter.

As far as I’m concerned, deep frying things in a home kitchen is quite possibly the grossest and most appalling cooking activity. Normally, I would recommend avoiding it at all costs. So, I am challenging anyone who would like to try this recipe in a skillet with just an inch or two of oil to do so because I would love to hear the results!! I am desperate to find a way of doing this that does not involve deep frying.

As of now, this recipe does involve deep frying, but despite the oiliness and excess of oil that results, I would definitely encourage everyone to try it because these dill pickle chips are ahhhmazing!

White sauce, or as we call it in northern Alabama “whyyyte sauce”, is a very particular kind of BBQ sauce. In northern Alabama, if you order barbecue, the natural way of serving it is with this mayonnaise-vinegar sauce that was developed by Bob Gibson in 1925. (You can find out more about the regionality of BBQ sauces in Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Handbook.) White sauce has an extremely limited geographical reach and just so happens to be very different from its tomato-based counterparts, but it is somewhat similar to a Carolinian pepper-vinegar sauce. This white sauce recipe is courtesy of my dad, who was born and raised in Decatur, AL, the home of Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ!

For the mayo in white sauce I will always and forever recommend Duke’s. I actually get my Duke’s mayo shipped to me via amazon, because I cannot buy it in California and I am NOT kidding it is just that good. (Feel free to read more about the magic of Duke’s here.)

picklesFinally, I know that the last step about baking them after frying them may seem really superfluous, but it will give them the crunch that makes them so very satisfying to eat!

Dill Pickle Chips with Alabama White Sauce

Ingredients

for the Pickles
32 ounces sliced, dill pickles
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
2 cups AP flour
1 quart vegetable oil for frying

for the White Sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
5-6 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
4-5 drops Worcestershire sauce

picklesFirst, to make the pickle chips: Make sure you drain the pickles and pat them dry a bit.

picklesWhisk together the egg, buttermilk, 1 tbs flour, and Worcestershire sauce together in a small bowl.

picklesIn a larger bowl, mix together the salt, pepper, cayenne, oregano, and the rest of the flour.

picklesBe sure to bread all of the pickles before frying, they cook very quickly and you really don’t want to be stuck trying to do everything at once with boiling oil in the kitchen! To bread them, first, dip the pickles (one by one) in the buttermilk mixture.

picklesThen, coat them generously in the flour mixture. You can lay them all out on a plate or large platter, they shouldn’t be too sticky.

In a large pot, over medium heat, get the vegetable oil up to 350°F. (Throw a bit of batter in there to test it, if it starts spitting and bubbling, you’re ready to go!) Cooking the pickles 6-10 at a time, let them crisp to a golden brown and then gently lift them out of the oil and onto a draining plate.

picklesWhen you are done frying the pickles, preheat the oven to 450°F. Arrange them on a baking sheet and bake them for about 5 minutes.

picklesThey are ready to come out after they have browned a bit and gotten very very crispy.

picklesThen, make the white sauce:

Whisk the mayonnaise, vinegar, pepper, Lawry’s, and Worcestershire sauce together until it foams. You are welcome to make this sauce as thin or thick as you like (by adjusting the vinegar). I love very thin white sauce, and usually add a larger amount of vinegar.

picklesServe up your pickles and white sauce!

picklesEnjoy!