For the Love of Buttermilk – Fried Okra and Cornbread

I recently, and somewhat unfortunately, discovered that buttermilk really does make all the difference in recipes. I used to sour regular milk with vinegar or lemon juice and call it a day. I thought it really only made a difference in texture when it came to fine cakes, but for everything else, soured milk was fine. I was wrong. And while that’s great to know, it’s something that’s hard to find and keep on hand in my current location. I’m both jazzed and a little dismayed. But, I made the best fried okra and cornbread ever this weekend and it was mostly thanks to buttermilk.

To start with, fried okra. I love okra. I love it something fierce. For the record I like it roasted, grilled, fried, and chipped too. Okra chips….mmmm….. but anyway, getting back to fried okra, the most common way to prepare it.

I used to do a flour-egg-seasoning batter on it before frying it, and it was good. It was fine, nothing great. Certainly nothing to put up here. But, it was good and they boys like it. It never occurred to me to dip okra in buttermilk and then a dry mixture. But, that’s what I did and it worked more than beautifully. I also added additional seasoning to the flour-cornmeal mixture. I wanted to eat it all. My boys weren’t going to have any of that. I had to share. Darn it!

I also made cornbread in my cast iron skillet. I’ve made this recipe numerous times. But, it wasn’t share-worthy until I used actual buttermilk instead of soured milk. It makes a night and day difference. In fact, my husband just had a gigantic chunk of it with his dinner tonight and he’s not normally a carb person. I think I finally got it right. That being said, this recipe has a few things going for it – a cast iron skillet, bacon grease, and buttermilk. I believe all three to be indispensible to great cornbread.

I imagine by this point my Southern sister in law is chuckling and shaking her head because she’s known this all along. Well, I’m a Southern work in progress. I may never ever officially be a Southerner but I can eat like one.

Fried Okra

Adapted from Garden and Gun magazine and their The Southerner’s Cookbook

Note: This dry mixture can also be used for fried pickles and fried green tomatoes.

MASTER FRY BATTER MIX (MAKES 2 CUPS)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

1/3 cup cornstarch

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

FRIED OKRA (SERVES 8 TO 10)

Peanut oil for deep-frying (I used vegetable oil)

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups Master Fry Batter Mix

1 pound small fresh okra, sliced into half-inch rounds

Kosher salt

Master Fry Batter Mix

For more rustic crunch, up the ratio of cornmeal. For more kick, use a heavy hand with the cayenne or whisk a few dashes of hot sauce into the buttermilk dip when you’re ready to fry.

Combine all the ingredients in a lidded container and keep in a cool dark place for up to 1 month.

For the Fried Okra

The original recipe keeps the okra whole, however, I prefer to slice it into 1/2″ rounds. It also has an extra step of dredging in cornstarch before the buttermilk, but I reduced the process to a two step process and it worked beautifully.

  1. In a large, deep-sided cast-iron skillet fitted with a deep-frying thermometer, heat 2 inches of oil to 350°F over medium heat. – I used a regular pan with about 1″ of oil. I tested the temp with one piece of okra and adjusted from there.
  2. Set up a dredging station with a shallow bowl containing the buttermilk and a shallow bowl containing the batter mix.
  3. Working in batches, dip the okra in the buttermilk, shake to remove excess, then place in the batter mix, tossing to coat. Shake off the excess batter mix and carefully slip the okra into the hot oil. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown. Remove from the oil with a spider or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels or a rack set over a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Spring with salt to taste. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.

Skillet Cornbread

Adapted from Fresh Every Day by Sara Foster

Sara uses 1.5 C cornmeal and 1/2 C flour, but I like it better as a 1:1 ratio

Makes one 10″ or 12″ round

2 T bacon grease (I find this nonnegotiable)

1 C yellow corn meal

1C all-purpose flour

3 T sugar

2 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

2 t salt

2 C well shaken buttermilk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Pour bacon grease into a 10 or 12 inch cast iron skillet. Tilt to coat the bottom and sides of skillet with grease. Place in the preheating oven. [Preheating the skillet ensures a nice crackly cornbread crust because the batter will instantly cook once it hits the pan.]
  3. Stir cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter. Stir until just combined with the dry ingredients no longer visible, but don’t over-mix.
  4. Remove hot skillet from oven. Pour batter into skillet, return to oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes until cornbread is golden brown and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cornbread rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting.

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