Think you hate okra? Slime-cut­ting tech­niques will change your mind.

The Borneo Post - Nature and health - - Flavours - by Emily Hor­ton

OKRA is known lo­cally as lady’s fin­gers. Okra has a sweet, grassy flavour that takes on more depth with longer cook­ing and a tex­ture that can be crisp and juicy or dense and creamy. Okra mu­cilage has its ad­mir­ers: In West Africa and the south­ern United States it is val­ued as a culi­nary tool, used to thicken gum­bos and lend body to other soups and stews. But where this qual­ity is not beloved (or con­sid­ered use­ful or even ap­petis­ing), cooks have de­vised myr­iad ways to stymie it. In In­dia they swear by high heat, of­ten saute­ing or fry­ing okra be­fore com­bin­ing it with wet­ter in­gre­di­ents.

In the US South, cooks of­ten bat­ter and fry it, braise it with to­ma­toes and onions, or boil it, to serve dressed in vinai­grette or to dip in but­ter or hol­landaise. Pop­u­lar guid­ance urges buy­ing the small­est pods avail­able, cook­ing them whole and keep­ing them dry. But most Amer­i­can cooks seem un­con­vinced. Find any crowd­sourced list of least-liked veg­eta­bles and okra will be on it. Think­ing about how many more fans okra could win without its tex­ture get­ting in the way, I took a close look at which mea­sures are most ef­fec­tive at ton­ing down its vis­cos­ity and which would best trans­late to a va­ri­ety of prepa­ra­tions.

The ap­proaches I tried fell into two groups: cook­ing meth­ods and pre-treat­ments. The first in­cluded such high-heat meth­ods as roast­ing, grilling, saute­ing, boil­ing and fry­ing, as well as cook­ing in an acidic medium such as to­ma­toes. In the se­cond were mar­i­nat­ing whole pods in vine­gar or cit­rus (with or without salt) and cut­ting and dry­ing them overnight. Be­cause some va­ri­eties of okra are stick­ier than oth­ers, I used the same lo­cal sup­plier for all of the test batches. And for each com­par­i­son, I pre­pared a con­trol batch. My take­away? The two key el­e­ments are high heat and acid.

The high-heat meth­ods were the most ef­fec­tive. When okra’s in­te­rior gel reaches high tem­per­a­tures (90 de- grees Cel­sius, or close to boil­ing), its vis­cos­ity thins, said Kather­ine Pre­ston, a botanist, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of hu­man bi­ol­ogy at Stan­ford and co-au­thor of “The Botanist in the Kitchen” blog. High-heat cook­ing helps re­duce ex­treme gum­mi­ness to some­thing merely full­bod­ied. Dry high heat - from roast­ing, grilling or fry­ing - worked even bet­ter. The okra re­mained juicy and ten­der while at­tain­ing an airy crisp­ness, and its del­i­cate, grassy flavour took on more depth.

The acid-cen­tred ap­proaches were less ef­fec­tive than high heat, but more ef­fec­tive than noth­ing. Vis­cos­ity peaks at neu­tral to al­ka­line pH, Pre­ston said, which is why ex­pos­ing okra to acidic in­gre­di­ents, such as vine­gar or to­ma­toes, tones it down. Some African cooks, she said, go in the other di­rec­tion, adding bak­ing soda (which raises pH to a more al­ka­line level) to okra soup to aug­ment its thick­en­ing ef­fect. Dry­ing cut pieces of okra overnight only slightly di­min­ished vis­cos­ity on its own, but I liked how the process con­cen­trated the okra’s flavour, and how well the pieces seared as a se­cond step.

Less-ef­fec­tive ap­proaches in­cluded sim­ply leav­ing the okra whole - as if, Pre­ston said, “slime were a mis­for­tune vis­ited upon the okra from some­where out­side.” True, if you cook okra whole, you can avoid spilling vis­cous juices into the rest of the dish. But if you don’t pre-treat it - sear or soak in vine­gar, for ex­am­ple - be­fore adding it to a liq­uid-based dish, you’ll still get a mouth­ful of gooey juices with each pod. – Wash­ing­ton Post.

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