How To Cook Okra That's Not Slimy

When you don't have time for slime.

Okra Varieties
Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

It may be one of our region's most iconic vegetables, but okra is a polarizing piece of produce. In fact, it's a dirty secret of many Southerners that they don't care for it at all. The reason? It was likely poorly cooked and thus, slimy. While okra slime does have its purpose, especially when thickening a favorite gumbo recipe, it can be avoided easily. Just follow these pro tips from our test kitchen to avoid common mistakes when cooking okra.

Choose Small, Fresh Pods

The smaller the pod, the less slime and seeds. Our friend Chef Tim Hontzas at Johnny's Restaurant in Homewood, Alabama, believes in this principle so much that he has his farmer hand grade each piece to be smaller than a pinky finger before he fries them. Larger pods can not only be slimy, but also woody and tough. Look for small, tender pods that are bright green with no black spots.

Use High Heat

The longer okra cooks, the slimier it gets. Methods like grilling, sauteing, and frying that use high heat for a short amount of time work well. Make sure your cast iron skillet, grill, or fryer is hot before you start cooking okra. Getting a good sear on the outside will not only make the outside taste great, but it will also reduce the slime inside. The result will be perfectly crisp okra.

Really Dry Them

Once you wash your okra pods, make sure they are completely dry. Wet pods will start to steam, which produces more slime.

Cook in Small Batches

A crowded skillet will bring the heat down, which will create a slime-conducive environment. If you're roasting them on a baking sheet, try using two sheets so they have plenty of room in between.

Add Acid

Lemon juice, chopped tomatoes, vinegar, or a splash of wine will not only add depth to your recipe, but it will also lower your slime quotient.

A vinegar bath also does wonders to reduce the slimy consistency. Before cooking, soak the pods in vinegar for 30 minutes to help break up and dissolve the slime. Pat the pods completely dry before cooking.

Cut Larger Pieces

Change your cutting game. Lots of small cuts release more mucilage, or slime, in okra. The bigger your pieces, the less slime you'll have. Consider cooking whole pods or larger chunks. Instead of cutting your okra into rounds, try slicing your okra in half lengthwise. This not only reduces slime, but it's also a nice change from the standard okra discs. You can also cut it lengthwise into shoestring-style strips. Keep the pod from rolling around by making cuts just up to the stem and then cutting off the stem to release the strips. Halves are perfect to roast or fry, and the long strips make a great fried side dish.

Recipes to Try

With these tips, this Southern icon just may win you over. Try it simply roasted, pickled and zesty, or pan-fried tossed with cornmeal. Fill okra with a pimento cheese-like spread and wrap in bacon for a twist on the favorite stuffed party poppers we all love. For a different presentation, smash okra and fry the resulting strands until crisp and golden.

There are so many ways to enjoy this inherently Southern dish. Get out your frying pan and get cooking.

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