Texas' Cooking -- Fried Okra and Fried Potatoes With Onions!
We're cookin' with grease today. . .
Amongst the ever vocal health nuts there remains a hard core group of folks (of whom I’m one) who grew up eating fried foods and quite frankly – lovin’ it! Most of us were born and raised in rural settings whether farms, ranches – even dairies – and one ate what one raised be it grown in the ground or walkin’ around on it. I was definitely grown before I knew chicken came cut up in packages with shrink wrap covering it. I was also mystified by the fact that other than the legs and thighs I couldn’t identify one damned piece in the pack – could have been crow or alligator for all I knew. My favorite piece of chicken – the pulley bone – just flat out disappeared altogether!
I, personally, was never a chicken killer but my Granny was and boy, was she good! She had a wire coat hanger all stretched out as straight as one could get it with a hook formed on the end. She’d grab a chicken and have it’s head wrung off before the unlucky chicken knew what happened. From that point on it was just a matter of dressing the thing out, cutting it up (in pieces we could all identify) and Sunday dinner was on the way. And . . . yep, it was as fried as fried could be – in Crisco only as that’s all my Granny used. Now, lots of folks back in the day used lard – and one can still buy it – but Granny was convinced that lard was just way too much grease, was far too heavy for her tastes and I’m convinced to this day if it had been a matter of Crisco or buying medicine for one of us Crisco would have won out.
Frying food has been a part of American cooking for a lot longer than most of us can remember and was, in fact, the cooking mode of choice by many for lots of years. Then came the “healthier than thou” folks who were convinced we’d all die before our twentieth birthday should fried food pass our lips. “Eating healthy” became politically correct (yes, we’re aware it’s proven healthier) – and some of us felt like we’d lost an old friend -- fried food -- to sudden death in a huge puddle of extra virgin olive oil. Well, dear hearts – we’re cookin’ with grease today and trust me – if you’ve not eaten southern fried okra or southern fried potatoes and onions – get ready ‘cause it’s taste bud time for sure.
A good iron skillet is a necessity. . .
There’s a lot of folks that think okra should have been banned as a weed with fur a long time ago. Not so – trust me – not so! Personally, I don’t like boiled okra but then that’s a matter of taste. My objection to it is most often it’s slimey and I just don’t like the texture although the taste is pretty good. I have a friend in Louisiana that does a thingy with boiled okra that involves vinegar in some way or other and it isn’t slimey – but that’s a different recipe for another day. Today, we’re gonna fry and fry and fry – and fried okra’s first on our list. Fresh okra is fine if you have it and it’s the right time of year but we’re gonna go with using unbreaded, cut, frozen okra ‘cause you can find it in nearly any supermarket/grocery store – and it’s cheap.
First thing you do is completely thaw the okra. While it’s thawing mix together a cup of all purpose flour and a cup of yellow cornmeal, and a couple of teaspoons of salt in a fairly large mixing bowl and set it aside. Now, here’s the important part – heat an iron skillet with about an inch to inch-and-a-half of Crisco (when it’s melted) and get it hot, hot, hot. Not quite as hot as you would get grease to fry fish but just short of that. While the grease is heating dredge the okra in the flour/corn meal mixture until it’s well covered and when the grease is ready – pop it in the skillet by the handful. Do not pour it into the skillet from the bowl as you’ll get the excess corn meal/flour in the grease and you don’t want that. Yes, it will be a full skillet and you’ll have to keep using a spatula and turning the okra pretty steadily until it’s golden brown and crispy. The best fried okra will have a few black pieces in it – and they add flavor so don’t be disappointed and don’t pick them out. Have a plate or pie pan ready with paper towels in the bottom to drain the fried okra – remove it from the skillet – let it drain a few minutes – remove the paper towels and serve immediately.
'Taters and onion. . . fried. . .
The second good, fried food, staple in southern cooking is fried potatoes and onions. A big platter full will feed – and fill up – a table surrounded by hungry cowboys or hungry kids – and there’s few that won’t love this dish (whether they admit it or not). Peel the potatoes – any potatoes – and cut them like you would for French fries. Personally, if the potatoes are big I cut them in half and then turn the half into shorter French fries. This recipe does not lend itself to long, floppy pieces of potato. Put the sliced potatoes in a big bowl. Next cut up a sizeable onion, slice it like you would for hamburgers and then half or even quarter the slices and add the onion pieces to the potatoes and mix ‘em up well. Now – and this is important – add salt to the whole thing – salt the potatoes and onions down pretty good and let them sit a few minutes. There’s something about the salting that makes the flavor of the onions and potatoes intensify and therein lies the basis for good fried potatoes and onions.
Again – get out your handy, dandy iron skillet and put enough Crisco in it to again be an inch or inch-and-a-half deep when it’s melted. The grease should be hot but not blazing hot – test it by tossing a piece of potato in and when it begins to sizzle the grease is hot enough to add all the potatoes and onions. Once you’ve used your spatula and got all the potatoes coated with grease, turn the heat down to (what I call) high medium and continue turning the potatoes and onions as they fry. When the potatoes begin to brown a bit put a lid on the skillet, turn the heat down to low medium and let the potatoes cook for about 3-4 minutes. Take the lid off, turn the heat back up to high medium and continue cooking until the potatoes are golden brown and the onion is done past the glaze stage – in fact you should have a few “over done” pieces in the skillet and that’s a good thing – don’t pick ‘em out as they’ll add flavor. Again, when your potatoes are done drain them on paper towels, remove the towels and serve immediately. This is a dish that screams for catsup so have plenty on hand!
Grease vs. olive oil. . .
Well, by now, I should have thoroughly disgusted every healthy eater that ever drew breath – but then again, I’ve found a few of those folks who’ll break the rules just for fried okra or fried potatoes and onion – seems these two dishes are hard for even the most “stick by the rules” eaters to pass up. So, we’re down to the bottom line now and of course, the big question is – are old southern dishes like the two we’ve just talked about good for you? Truthfully, probably not as they obviously do have starch, grease, salt – well, just about everything in the book of “No-No Eating” as we know it today.
On the other side of the argument – (1) both recipes are vegetables; (2) humans are animals and we do need a certain amount of oil/grease in our diets; (3) there’s folks 90-years-old that grew up on this kind of cooking and still eat it today (they’re the ones that still go fishing, work cattle and still put in a full day’s work). If one eats enough fatty foods will it cause obesity? Yep – sure will – and no one’s advocating we should load up on fried foods on a regular basis. However, those of us raised up to eat this way still crave the foods we know and love and the bottom line is – we’re all gonna die of something – someday – and good southern cooking, although it may hasten that process – at least lets us leave this planet with a smile on our face! It’s also kind of a pleasure to shoot the bird at the food nay-sayers who live on two soda crackers, a celery smoothie and a bowl of granola – and still gain weight.
Oh, by the way – you can try substituting extra virgin olive oil for Crisco in both these dishes and you’ve got an ironclad guarantee -- it’ll be a dud every time – just thought you might like to know that ‘cause educated, extra smart, healthy people think extra virgin olive oil is the answer to everything – and, for a fact it might cure bark on a stump, I don't know – BUT it won’t make good fried okra and good fried potatoes and onion – takes grease, darlin’ – just plain, old, country grease!