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