Why I Won't Ever Be a Mainstream Food Writer
Freezing Cheeses

Okra - A Slimy Puzzle

I have a great gumbo recipe, except for the okra, which makes it slimy.  Is there any way to prevent the sliminess?
-Bob (& Kay)

I haven't cooked with okra much, only a time or two, largely because it isn't that common in the produce markets I use, but I know what you mean about sliminess.  In Ghostbusters II, singing neutralizes the ghost slime, but I figured that okra slime has movie slime beat, so I did some research to see what I could learn.

According to McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen okra is notorious for its slimy mucilage, "a complex mixture of entangled carbohydrate molecules and proteins that helps plants retain water."  In his book Keys to Good Cooking, McGee suggests dry heat methods like frying or baking, or cooking them whole, to minimize okra's sliminess.  Other authors make similar suggestions, and include deep frying and grilling whole okra.  After it is cooked this way, it can be chopped and stirred into gumbo or other dishes off-heat, immediately before serving.  I haven't tried it, but I would expect that microwaving will do too.  The key to all of these suggestions is to cook the okra without getting more water into the insides.

On the flip side, I found this video from Dan Webster, who seemed to me somewhat impatient with people not realizing the obvious.  He suggests that the way to get rid of the slime is to cut up the okra, boil it for a few minutes in a large pot of water and then drain it.  Since the mucilage is water soluble, this makes a lot of sense.  You will lose some flavor and there will still be a bit of sliminess, but it should work well.  After it is drained, you can put the okra into whatever you are preparing, as usual, provided that you allow for the fact that it is already cooked.

I also found a few suggestions that adding an acid, vinegar or lemon juice, would tame okra's slime, but nothing to back up why that would work.  I would guess, however, that if you add enough to make a difference you will substantially change the taste of your gumbo so I am ruling out that idea, but give the first two suggestions a try, and let me know how they work.

As for the singing, it may not help the slime, but it might make cooking a bit more fun.




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