The Dog Days of Summer Haven’t Dampened the Spirit of . . . Okra! Try This Easy Skillet-fried Recipe

Fresh garden okra--don't let them get too big, or they'll be too "woody" to eat. Cut them off the plant, wash and dry them, and store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you have a batch to eat.

Here in the latter part of July, my garden is already looking a bit sad and tired, but I’ve learned a lot in this first go-round.  The tomatoes have long since hit their peak, and a couple of those plants will probably meet their maker in the composter this weekend.  The beans are still trying, but now with more rain than we need interspersed with the mid-summer heat, try is about all they can do.  What does love all this hot weather is the

Every kitchen should have at least one cast iron skillet. If it gets rusty from disuse or moisture, don't throw it away. Clean it with steel wool; then wipe it well with a paper towel and cooking oil. It will be ready to use again!

okra.

There are about 20 plants, at varying stages of maturity, not because they were planted at different times, but because some of them were almost crowded out by faster growing tomato and cucumber plants.  Now, though, the okra are the kings of the garden, flowering and producing their pods at a faster rate each day.

I’ll pick more today, and if they continue so prolifically, I’ll try my

A mouth-watering supper with all homegrown veggies: skillet-fried okra, yellow and green beans with bacon, sliced turkey, feta, and tomato on jalapeño and cheese bread from my local Kroger bakery. (This bread is to die for!)

hand at pickling.

Most people who eat okra are more accustomed to either having it batter fried or in gumbo.  On the farm in Kansas, my mom pan-fried the okra in a cast iron skillet.  It was one of my favorite summer vegetables.  I have to admit that I haven’t gotten the “do” on my fried okra anywhere near Mom’s.  Maybe the taste is all in the nostalgia.

A week ago, I tried cooking the okra a bit differently. and I really liked the result.  Instead of putting oil into the skillet, I just cut up one strip of bacon into pieces and fried it.  Then I cut up the okra into the bacon grease and cooked bacon pieces, continuing the rest of the cooking process in the same way as always.  The end result was yummy, if I do say so myself!

Pan Fried Okra

5-7 okra per person

2 tablespoons cooking oil, lard, or bacon fat

3-4 tablespoons flour

Salt and Pepper

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil, lard, or other “grease” in a heavy skillet (frying pan).  When it starts to sizzle, start slicing in the okra, about 1/4 inch slices.  Okra cooks down a lot, so I’d recommend 5 or 6 okra per person.  When the okra is all sliced, keep turning as it cooks.  It will begin to change to a darker green and even “blackened”.  Salt and pepper.  When the okra starts to get a bit “slimey”, sprinkle a couple tablespoons of flour over the cooking okra.  Mix the flour into the okra.  Turn with a pancake turner, and sprinkle the other side with more flour.  Let the okra get crispy on one side before turning again.  Cook and turn until the okra is cooked through.

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Hamburger Gravy: One of Those Good Ol’ Comfort Recipes

In my Hamburger Gravy post, some readers may have been disappointed by not seeing an actual recipe format. (I guess I thought the directions for making hamburger gravy were implicit there.) Here is how we have made and still make hamburger gravy in our family. If you have never made hamburger gravy, it might become one of your favorite “comfort foods”.

3/4 to 1 pound ground beef or hamburger meat

2 to 3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups milk

salt and pepper

In a small skillet (I prefer cast iron), brown the ground beef. Drain off most of the cooked out grease, leaving enough (1 to 2 tablespoons) so that the bottom of the skillet and the meat glistens. (This means for this recipe you want hamburger meat that has some fat content; extremely lean ground beef probably won’t have enough fat, and also, won’t be as tasty.)

With the heat under the skillet still at medium, push the loose hamburger meat to the sides of the skillet, making a “well” in the center. Add about 2 tablespoons of the flour (more if you have more meat and are making a larger amount of gravy) into the “well”. Start combining the flour with the grease with a fork or spoon, letting it cook together so that it gets a somewhat golden brown color, but keep stirring so that it doesn’t burn. As the flour-grease mixture cooks, you can mix in the cooked ground hamburger, getting it coated with the mixture. This only takes a minute or two.

Add enough milk so that all of the hamburger meat is covered and keep stirring. Soon the gravy should start bubbling. Salt and pepper well. (If you prefer, you can add salt and pepper when cooking the hamburger meat.) Keep stirring as the gravy thickens.

Take the skillet off the heat a little before it reaches the thickness that you want as it will continue to cook after you remove it from the heat and “thicken up” even more. If the gravy becomes too thick, thin it down (over the heat) with more milk or a milk-water combination; adding more liquid is also a way to make the gravy “stretch”.

Serve immediately over pieces of toast, fried potatoes, or even biscuits.

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Would you like to know how I make gravy with fried meats? Go here.

If you like this one, you might also like, “Puddin’ Meat–Good Food for a Cold Morning”, and “Coffee Milk and Hopalong Cassidy”.

Homemade Gravy Right in the Skillet–Really Good, Quick and Just the Thing To Go with Fried Meat

I’ve received so many views of my Hamburger Gravy post that I thought I’d add a post with the gravy recipe that I learned from my mom out on our farm near Dorrance, Kansas. We made gravy after frying almost any kind of meat. We always had gravy from frying our home-grown chicken and steak. Of course, we made it with pork chops too. You can even make gravy with fried liver!

I think using a cast-iron skillet for frying the meat, and in particular, for making the gravy afterward, works best. Non-stick type frying pans just don’t work as well for getting the meat nice and browned and producing all those little leftover bits and goodies that make gravy really delicious. (Do remember: cast-iron skillets will rust, so hand wash and dry them.  Don’t put them in the dishwasher.)

For really good gravy, the meat needs to be well-seasoned and well-floured before being put into the greased skillet. This leaves a great coating on any meat, some of which will fall off and be left behind in the skillet. Also having the skillet and the oil nearly sizzling to start with helps the flour and meat to brown well, which also adds flavor and more tasty tidbits for the gravy. After the outside of the meat is browned, the heat can be turned down so that the meat can continue to cook and become tender and juicy.

After the meat is cooked, take it out and set it aside to rest. Drain (or spoon out) most of the excess grease from the skillet, carefully saving the crunchy fried tidbits of flour and meat. (Be careful when pouring hot grease out of a heavy skillet in order not to get burned, from either the pan or from splashing hot liquid.) There should be only about a tablespoon or two of grease left, enough so that the bottom of the skillet looks well coated and the morsels have a sheen to them. The heat under the skillet at this time should be hot but not high heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons of flour to the skillet, and with a dinner fork, start mixing and combining the flour with the remaining grease and morsels so that everything is combined well. At this same time, the flour mixture will be cooking and getting a light brown cast to it. This does not take long, around a minute or so. Don’t let it burn.

Be ready with the liquid–usually milk, but you could use cream or half and half to make a very rich gravy. In hard times, even water was used. Start by adding about a half cup of the liquid into the hot skillet, working it quickly into the flour mixture. This combination should become thick and bubbly, almost like a mini-geyser. Now is a good time to salt and pepper well. Gravy needs to be seasoned or it will taste very bland. Let that cook for just a short time–15-30 seconds, so that the flour is really cooked. Start stirring in more of the liquid. Of course, the more gravy you want, the more liquid you will need to add, but the more liquid that you add the more diluted the flavor of the gravy will be, so be sure to adjust the seasonings. For a regular meal for 3 or four people, probably no more than a couple of cups of liquid is needed. And remember, you can add some water if you have already used some milk. However, you need to continue stirring the gravy, the entire time you are cooking it.

Turn off the heat under the skillet a bit before the gravy completely reaches the consistency that you want because it will continue to cook on its own in the hot skillet. If it gets thicker than you want, immediately add some more liquid while it’s still cooking. If the flour in the gravy has too many lumps or has become too thick, a hand-held blender can help you get the consistency that you want.

Making the gravy should be the very last thing that you do before serving the food. That way it will be hot and not start to get “gloppy”.  It is really isn’t difficult to make good gravy to go along with your favorite meats.  If your results the first time are not perfect, don’t give up; a couple more tries and you’ll get the knack of it.

Usually there is not enough gravy left to save for leftovers. Likewise, it is not one of those foods which works great as a leftover because generally it congeals in the refrigerator, and just reheating it doesn’t work well. However, it can be reheated in the microwave and brought back to somewhat of its original consistency with the hand-held blender, or by reheating the gravy on the stove in a saucepan, adding some more milk and using the hand-held blender, you can make it “stretch” for another meal.

Actually, I’ve only made gravy after frying hamburgers one or two times because gravy isn’t generally something that we have with hamburgers, but it can be done. As I wrote before, I had no luck making gravy from hamburgers and using all of the grease that fried out. If you want to make gravy after frying hamburgers, most of the grease (just like when frying other meats) needs to be drained off. Even though there probably are those who can make hamburger gravy without draining off the grease, that much meat fat (and, hence, the cholesterol) cannot be good for you.

Hamburger Gravy

Skillet Gravy

Skillet Gravy

Last night for supper, I made pasta with meat sauce. As I was draining all the grease off of the ground beef, I remembered something funny that I hadn’t thought about in many years.

When I was in college, I lived in the dorm for three years. Then my last year my dorm roommate, two other guys–brothers–and I decided to get an apartment together. The other three were basically useless at cooking, and I didn’t mind it, so I ended up cooking most of the evening meals. For lunch and breakfast, we each did our own thing, either eating on campus or putting together a sandwich at home.

I grew up on a farm, but by that time my parents had basically retired, so we no longer had any cows, but while I was growing up, we had had both milk cows and cows we raised for beef. We always had all kinds of roasts and steaks in the freezers, along with hamburger, and I had learned to cook all of them.

In the apartment, the two roommates who were brothers still lived on a farm where the family raised their own beef, so they frequently brought meat from home. We usually made the hamburger meat up into patties and froze them. Then we could easily take out the number we wanted and cook them. Even my “non-cooking” roommates could fry a hamburger.

One time, though, they asked me if I could make hamburger gravy. Growing up on the farm, I had learned to make gravy from my mother. I knew how to drain off the grease from fried chicken, brown a little flour with the tasty bits that were left from the chicken, add some milk (sometimes water if there was no milk), put in a little salt and pepper, keep stirring while it thickened, and take it off the heat at just the right time for great tasting, fried chicken gravy. I could do the same if it was fried steak or pork chops. I also knew how to make tuna gravy and chipped beef gravy by making a white sauce and then adding the tuna or chipped beef. And yes, we even did make hamburger gravy. (See recipe here.) All of these–the tuna, chipped beef, and hamburger gravies, we loaded onto a slice of bread on our plates and ate.

So I told my roommates that I could make hamburger gravy.  (See link to Hamburger Gravy Recipe below.)  But their idea was to make gravy after you fried the hamburgers–not to make gravy with hamburger meat. They said their mom didn’t drain off the grease. I was doubtful, but they were hungry for the hamburger gravy that their mom made.

I tried it. To make it work, I was sure that I would need more flour, which I tried to brown into the hot grease. There was just too much grease to make the nice little tidbits of meat morsels and browned flour. I can’t remember now exactly what it looked like, but I decided to go ahead. The moment I poured the cold milk into the rest, it all became a big, congealed glob. This glob, of course, wasn’t the gravy my roommates’ mother made.

The rest of the time we all shared an apartment, they never asked me to make hamburger gravy again.

(So the socio-linguistic and/or cooking question is: Why can you make skillet gravy, but you would never make frying pan gravy?)

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Would you like to know how I make gravy to go with steak and other meats? Go here.

If you like this one, you might also like, “Puddin’ Meat–Good Food for a Cold Morning”, Hamburger Gravy Recipe, and “Coffee Milk and Hopalong Cassidy”.