Friday, October 10, 2014
Is there anything more American than the state fair?
Small-town pride. Prize-winning bulls. Proud children showing off their favorite ponies and sheep. State fairs are so American, they even have a contest for the best apple pie.
Some of us go for the music. Some go for the exhibits. Some go for the rides. But let’s be frank: A lot of us go for the food.
Fair food is a world unto itself, a secret, guilty place we visit to indulge in the foods that we would never ordinarily consume, the artery-clogging, brain-rotting, heart-stopping, certain-death foods that taste soooo good even while you suspect they may not be the healthiest things you could eat.
Only at a fair would you even think of trying a deep-fried Twinkie or Snickers bar. Only at a fair would anyone ever serve deep-fried butter. Only at a fair would anyone even consider the concept of deep-fried Coke — and yes, if you haven’t been to a fair lately, that’s a real thing.
Or you can make your favorite fair dishes yourself. Just be sure to have a defibrillator nearby and an ambulance service on speed-dial.
Making your own fair food is easy. Just:
1. Take something that is very bad for you, and
2. Fry it.
Take, for instance, a hot dog. Juicy. Fatty. Cholesteroly. It’s great, sure, at a baseball game. But a simple hot dog is not nearly deadly enough for a fair. A fair requires something bigger and bolder, something coated in cornmeal and fried. Something with three times the calories. A fair requires a corn dog.
There is no other word for it: Making corn dogs at home is fun. It involves the familiar process of mixing dry ingredients into wet ingredients (including a small can of creamed corn - I told you it was fun). Then you impale a hot dog on a skewer, dip it into the batter and then toss it into a pot of hot oil. A few short minutes later, you have a golden brown, delectable corn dog.
It is vitally important that the oil be 375 degrees; if you don’t have your own fryer, use a candy or frying thermometer. Anything less than that and the coating will not remain on the hot dog; anything much higher and you may burn the coating before the hot dog is cooked. It is also important, before dipping it into the batter, to coat the hot dog with a light dusting of cornstarch. Use your hands to coat it thoroughly, and be sure to knock off all the excess you can. This step will assure that the coating will adhere to the hot dog.
I used an old recipe from Alton Brown, and it was sublime. But a vast amount of batter was left over, so I did what any vendor at a fair would do. I used the same method to deep fry a bunch of dill pickle spears. These were so good, I decided to deep fry some thick slices of avocado. Because, you know, avocados are healthy.
And yes, they do sell deep-fried avocados at the California State Fair. Of course, they do.
If any food were even more associated with fairs than corn dogs, it would have to be funnel cakes. These, too, are fairly simple to make at home, especially when you realize their secret.
Funnel cakes are made from flour, eggs, milk, water, vanilla, sugar and baking powder, plus a little salt. Wait - that’s a pancake. Funnel cakes are just deep-fried pancake batter. No wonder they are so awesome.
I made mine the traditional way, topped with powdered sugar. But I’ll bet they’d be just as good with maple syrup.
Chicken-fried bacon made its debut at the 2008 State Fair of Texas, where it quickly won the coveted award for best taste. It was invented in Snook, Texas, and I once lived close to Snook, so I decided to make it, too. Also, I like saying “Snook.”
Chicken-fried bacon is just what it sounds like. You take a piece of thick-cut bacon. You dip it in a mixture of egg and milk. You dip it in flour seasoned with salt, pepper and maybe some garlic powder. You dip it back in the egg-milk mixture. You dip it back in the flour. Then you deep fry it.
If you want, you can serve it with cream gravy on the side, as they do at Sodolak’s Original Country Inn, in Snook. As one wag put it, that means you take a piece of fat, coat it in fat, fry it in fat and then serve it with more fat on the side.
Even without the gravy, my colleagues loved it. They snapped it up instantly and cried for more. But I didn’t even try it.
I have too much respect for my arteries for that.