Okra! The vegetable, which also goes by the name of ladies fingers, may either induce feelings of love or hate in you. The lovers will probably adore its flavour and the slightly crunchy, popping texture of the large white seeds. The haters probably gag at the thought of okra’s mucilaginous texture when cut. I reckon this recipe might convert some of you haters. I mean, it’s deep fried; that’s worth a few points at least.

I adore okra. I love it in fish curry and I love it stir fried with sambal. I eat it cooked in tomato sauce and I love it sliced thinly and deep fried into crisps. One day, I even want to grow it at home as it’s a cute plant: the pointy finger pods grow upwards. However, I’d never had Southern fried okra, where the pods are cut up and coated in a cornmeal crust and then deep fried. After frying some aubergines to make Reiko‘s noodles at home, there was still enough oil to deep fry a little something on the side. Southern-style okra had been on my to-cook list for a while and okra it was going to be. Putting it together was very easy and preparing and frying it all took no longer than 10-15 minutes. And what a crunch they had! We couldn’t stop popping the little fritters and cleared the small bowlful in no time. They weren’t slimy at all.

Fried Okra

The recipe below is for the small batch that I fried up for the two of us as a side dish. However, I wish I’d cooked ten times as much. The recipe is easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, etc. but I think you’d only need 1 egg for every 20 okra pods or so. Many recipes online also add some buttermilk to the egg, which I’ll try next time.

Fried Okra
serves 1-2 as a side or snack.

10-12 large pods of okra (or double the number of small)
1 egg
cornmeal
salt and pepper
sunflower oil for frying

This one’s an easy recipe! Clean your okra and slice them into approximately 1.5cm chunks. Beat the egg and dump all the okra pieces into the bowl with it. Stir well so that each okra bit is coated well.

In another bowl, add some cornmeal and season it well with salt and pepper (I reckon pimenton or chilli powder would be lovely here too). Use a fork to transfer the okra lumps to the cornmeal (you just want enough egg to hold that cornmeal on). Coat each lump well and set aside – they’re ready for frying.

Heat some oil for deep frying – it should be ready when a piece of okra sizzles happily in there. Fry in small batches, turning occasionally, until they are golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve.

If I want to gorge on croquetas (croquetes in Catalan), I’m either going to have to wait for my annual trip to Barcelona or make them myself. There’s no place to buy them ready made to fry at home and it’s rather silly to order so many at a restaurant. I have tried making them in the past but I wasn’t happy with the recipe, though the resultant croquetas did taste nice enough. The bechamel didn’t have enough flour in it, resulting in a liquidy mixture which made for some extremely hazardous frying.

If you’re not familiar with Spanish croquetas, you might mistakenly believe that they’re filled with a mashed potato mixture, similar to the croquettes from other countries (the UK and Japan instantly come to mind). However, these creamy crusty morsels are made with bechamel, a very thick bechamel, with bits of meat scattered throughout. You form them when the bechamel is cold, and hence extra thick, before rolling them in beaten egg and then breadcrumbs. And you’re not limited to making them in the typical cylindrical shape: the ones at Barrafina and Fino are big and spherical and I once had some rather delicate examples at a restaurant somewhere in the Catalan countryside where they were simply lumps (about a teaspoonful each). As we’ve sampled every shape though, we do believe that the traditional croqueta form offers the best ratio of crispy outside and smooth and creamy inside.

Croquetas

I’ve put a range in the amount of flour in the recipe – use less and the croquetas will be creamier but more difficult to handle and more likely to sputter when frying. Use more and they won’t sputter and they’ll be easy to handle – but they won’t be as creamy. However, both still make a yummy croqueta! And of course, you don’t have to make them with Spanish jamón (in Catalan pernil salat) – you can use finely chopped cooked chicken or chopped ham (what the Spanish call jamón York – pernil dolç in Catalan). These are all quite classic fillings but hey, let your imagination run riot!

Inside a Croqueta

You could serve a few as a light starter or even as a finger food with drinks. Or do as we did and scoff the whole lot as a main course (for 2) with a salad on the side.

Croquetas de Jamón
makes about 24.

60g jamón, finely chopped
80-100g plain flour
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
500 mL whole milk
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half
5-6 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
salt to taste
a good grating of nutmeg
2 eggs
dried breadcrumbs
oil for frying

In a small pot, combine the milk, peppercorns, bay leaves and the onion halves. Bring to a simmer and continue simmering for a few minutes. Keep warm until required.

Heat another pot or pan to medium heat and add the butter and olive oil. Fry the jamón for a minute or two and then add the flour and stir until a paste is formed. Slowly add the hot milk, stirring or whisking very well each time you’ve added a ladleful or so. When all the milk has been added, let the mixture cook over a low heat until very thick. If you feel your bechamel is too thick at this point, add a little water or milk to loosen it. Add the nutmeg, stir through and then salt the mixture to taste. Pour this bechamel into a flat bowl or baking dish, cover it with plastic wrap – pressing the wrap onto the surface, and then refrigerate until cool (an hour or two).

Set up your workspace – you’re going to make croquetas! Beat the two eggs with a little water in a bowl. Place the breadcrumbs on a plate or a large piece of baking paper (the flat surface helps you to roll the breadcrumbs onto the croquetas). You’ll also need a plate or a container to hold your formed croquetas. A little chopping board for working with the bechamel is also useful though not necessary.

Forming

Take a lump of the cooled bechamel and roll it into a long sausage. Cut this sausage into croquetas. You could skip this by taking tablespoonfuls of the bechamel and forming them in your hands. You could even make little lumpy croquetas or large spherical ones. Whatever takes your fancy. Dip them in the beaten egg and then in the breadcrumbs, making sure to coat each croqueta thoroughly. Repeat until all the bechamel is used up. Refrigerate the finished croquetas for at least an hour before frying.

Heat your frying oil over medium heat (I used a frying pan and shallow fried them – you can deep fry, of course). Fry until golden brown, turning carefully to fry each side – try not to puncture them; they’re very delicate. Drain on kitchen paper and serve while warm.