By Daniel Neman St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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.
Much of it will be on display Thursday as The Evergreen State Fair in Monroe kicks off. If you want, you can get all of your fair-food cravings there and can also enjoy the music, the exhibits and the rides.
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.
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.
1/2 gallon vegetable oil
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more if desired
1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely minced, optional
1 8.5 ounce can creamed corn
1/3 cup finely grated onion
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons cornstarch, for dredging
8 hot dogs
8 wooden skewers
Note: If you like, use leftover batter and the same technique to make fried dill pickle spears and fried avocado slices. If making pickles, dry the spears on paper towels before dredging through cornstarch. You can also drop batter by the tablespoon into the oil to make fried corn puffs.
Heat oil in a deep fryer or large heavy pot to 375 degrees; use fryer thermostat or candy thermometer for accuracy.
In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cayenne. In a separate bowl, combine jalapeno, if using, corn, onion and buttermilk. You can keep this liquid mixture covered in the refrigerator for hours or even days; the dry mixture may be held at room temperature indefinitely.
When ready to cook, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients all at once, and stir only enough times to bring the batter together; there should be lumps. Set batter aside to rest for 10 minutes.
Fill a large drinking glass almost to the top with batter. Place cornstarch on a plate. Stick skewers into hot dogs. Roll 2 of the hot dogs in the cornstarch to cover them completely; you can use your hands to help. Be sure to knock off all excess cornstarch – the hot dogs should only be coated lightly.
Quickly dip one prepared hot dog in and out of the batter, and immediately (and carefully) place it in the oil; if making 2 at a time, do the same with the other. Do not fry more than 2 at a time, because that will lower the oil’s temperature too much. Fry corn dogs until coating is golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. With tongs, remove to cooling rack and allow to drain for 3 to 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining hot dogs.
Per serving: 345 calories; 21g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 25 mg cholesterol; 10 g protein; 29 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 1,185 g sodium; 70 mg calcium.
Yields 8 servings
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown, via Food Network
Vegetable oil for frying
1 pound thick-cut sliced bacon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon (2 pinches) garlic powder, optional
Salt and pepper
Pour oil into skillet at least an inch or 2 deep. Heat to 375 degrees; use a candy thermometer for accuracy. Cut bacon slices in half.
Whisk egg and milk together in a bowl. In another bowl, season flour with garlic powder, if desired, and salt and pepper.
Double dip a bacon slice, dunking it first in the egg mixture, then the flour mixture, then back in the egg mixture, then back in the flour. Fry in oil, no more than 4 slices at a time, until golden brown, about 4 or 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Per serving: 480 calories; 38 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; 95 mg cholesterol; 28 g protein; 9 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; no fiber; 1,595 g sodium; 30 mg calcium.
Yields 6 servings
Recipe from Food.com
Vegetable oil for deep-fat frying
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat oil in a fryer, electric skillet or large, heavy pot to 375 degrees. Use fryer or electric skillet thermostat or candy thermometer for accuracy.
In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add milk, water and vanilla and stir until well blended. In a different bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, and stir until smooth.
Ladle 1 cup batter into a large funnel with your finger over the bottom or into a mixing cup. Pour into oil in a spiral motion.
Cook, turning once with a large spatula or spider, until golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm, dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
Per serving: 295 calories; 9 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 50 mg cholesterol; 7 g protein; 45 g carbohydrate; 8 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 310 g sodium; 85 mg calcium.
Yields 8 servings (4 funnel cakes)
Recipe from Taste of Home
Evergreen State Fair
Want to try the real thing? The Evergreen State Fair begins Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe. The fair runs through Sept. 1. For more information, visit www.evergreenfair.org.